MIDTOWN – For the citizens, civic leaders and activists in attendance, the 2019 MLK Memorial Tribute was more than an observance of the life of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., it was a celebration of his achievement and a cue for individuals to continue his unfinished work.
Held on Thursday at the Wool Ballroom in St. Louis University’s Busch Student Center and presented by St. Louis University and the Urban League of Metropolitan St. Louis, the ceremony included speeches, award presentations and a keynote address by Lifetime Achievement Award winner Martin Luther King III.
An activist and advocate for strategic nonviolence, Martin Luther King III, the eldest son of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Coretta Scott King, could not have arrived in the Gateway City at a more prescient time as local municipalities and citizenries strive to meet the challenges of today amidst the travails of navigating the current political climate.
Carrying the burdens and blessings of his family name into today’s conflicted world, King reassured those filled with apprehension that his father’s legacy remains “strong and vibrant.”
Speaking for over forty minutes, he underscored the significance of honoring his father.
“The King holiday has become not just a day of celebration but also an inspiring day of nationwide community service. It also is a day of national education about my dad’s life and legacy,” he said, continuing, “All across the nation people will be learning about his philosophy and methods of nonviolent social change and how his teaching can be applied to address the injustices of our time.”
Noting that “discrimination is a tenacious evil,” he also commented on the current state of social justice in the United States, citing voter suppression, gun violence, equal pay for women, poverty, injustice and the treatment of immigrants as the key issues of the day. Challenging America to be better he commented, “We are a better nation than the behavior we exhibit.”
King shared his optimism for the future by praising the work of Urban Leagues around the nation whose efforts to build better communities remains resolute. He also cited how the success of the recent election, particularly its victories for women and minorities, signifies an opportunity for positive change.
The event also featured a presentation from Craig Unruh, President of AT&T Missouri, who announced a corporate gift of $100,000 to the Urban League’s Save Our Sons program.
The 7th Annual MLK Memorial Tribute also saluted local citizens who applied the principles of Dr. King’s commitment to social justice, compassion and equality to their communities.
Dr. Mona Hicks, associate vice president and dean of students at St. Louis University, received the Donald Brennan Humanitarian Award for her leadership and advocacy for student learning.
Also lauded was queer activist and organizer Kayla Reed, who was given the 2019 St. Louis University Community Service Award. Ms. Reed is the co-director of the Action St. Louis, a grassroots organization striving to build political power via civic engagement and strategic political action. She also co-founded and organized the Electoral Justice Project, which seeks to mobilize the African-American electorate to achieve ballot victories.
Some of the loudest applause of the day went to Frances Mae Shelby, who was honored as the Longest Voter In The St. Louis Region. Exuberant and passionate about the political process, “Mother” Shelby has not missed an election for 75 years. She also was the first woman and African American to serve as a Sergeant in the St. Louis Sheriff’s Office, a position she held for 30 years.
Political Leadership Awards were also bestowed to African American elected officials of St. Louis City and County as well as members of the Missouri House of Representatives and State Senate.
The 2019 MLK Memorial Tribute used reflection, hope and activism as poignant reminders of how the mission of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. resonates with us today. Recognized as a holiday in over 100 nations, it continues to serve notice of MLK’s ongoing commitment to social justice and just how much work there still is yet to do.