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The Southern Christian Leadership Conference Stands tall as a direct legacy of the work of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and in honor of its founder, the organization continues his work by keeping his dream alive.
The third Monday in January has been officially designated as a national holiday in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and throughout that week, celebrations dot the landscape of the nation in remembrance of his work, his life and his dream of a better America. Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) organizations throughout the country seek to continue the tradition that was put in place when Dr. King walked among the people and that he left as a legacy for the world to emulate.
Dr. King would have been 79 years old and SCLC of Greater Los Angeles and the SCLC Dream Foundation held a weeklong celebration, which included a multi-faith prayer breakfast, a reception and fashion show, the Poor People’s Campaign Presidential Forum and culminated with its 31st annual Martin Luther King Jr. dinner.
The dinner focused on the Poor People’s Campaign and the Security Officer’s Tentative New Contract, both of which were projects that King worked diligently for and for which he ultimately gave his life—to improve the quality of life of the sanitation workers in Memphis, Tennessee. The watchwords for the dinner were “On Our Way Forward: Love and Justice ... The Moral Imperative and the honorees were Danny J. Bakewell Jr., the chief operating officer of the Los Angeles Sentinel and president of the Bakewell Company, who received the Drum Major award. Yvonne Wheeler, senior field representative of the American Federation of Labor-CIO, Western Region, received the Rosa Parks award. Rev. Dr. Lewis Logan II, senior pastor of Bethel A.M.E. Church of Los Angeles received the Thomas Kilgore Jr. Prophetic Witness award. And Southern California Edison received the Corporate Responsi-bility award.
Marc Brown and Michelle Tuzee of ABC Eyewitness News were the master and mistress of ceremonies and set the tone for the evening’s activities, followed by introductory remarks by Senator Mark Ridley-Thomas, a former executive director of SCLC. Rev. Eric Lee, president of SCLC/LA welcome the guests and gave a stirring account detailing the some of SCLC’s projects that carry on the day-to-day activities of Dr. King’s legacy. Tyrone Freeman, board chairman of SCLC/LA followed with a riveting account of SCLC’s involvement in rekindling the Poor People’s Campaign, the core of Dr. King’s vision for the masses of people, and its goals, objectives and desires of eradicating poverty in the Los Angeles area. Freeman also described the role of the union in granting a better quality of life to its members and pointed out the recent contract negotiated on behalf of the Security Officers Union of Los Angeles (SOULA). Then he introduced Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa who danced his way to the podium.
Mayor Villaraigosa, in high spirits, continued his congratulatory sway that he’d started earlier that day at the King Day parade and went on to let the guests know about the contract that the security officers union had negotiated which offered the a 40 percent wage increase and benefits package. He saluted the union president, Faith Culbreath and had the guests acknowledged those who were present with a standing ovation—a very emotional gesture.
The showstopper of the evening was the keynote speaker, Dick Gregory. Brown introduced him as a civil-rights activist, comedian, author, actor, nutritionist and several monikers befitting the 75-year old elder statesman and human rights legend. Those who came to hear him were not disappointed and those who stayed to hear him were glad they did. Gregory kept the guests roaring with laughter. He paid homage to the workers by minimizing his contributions to the affair saying, “someone picked me up from the airport and someone’s going to carry me back. I just had to be there.”
Referring to the political campaign, Gregory said, “Negroes call (former President) Bill Clinton the first Black president and then say (Senator) Obama isn’t Black enough.” After almost an hour of vintage satire, he challenged the crowd stating that there were enough talented people in the room “to change the world.”