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King's legacy remains fresh and relevant at scholarship banquet

The event was first organized in 1978 by local black community leaders Leonard Harris and Rosabell Roman

January 20, 2013|By RICHARD F. BELISLE | richardb@herald-main.com
  • Rosabell Roman, sitting, and Leonard Harris, standing, are the founders of the Martin Luther King Jr. Scholarship Banquet.
By Richard Belisle, Staff Writer

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. — “I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.’”

— Martin Luther King Jr. speaking on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial on Aug. 23, 1963.

More than 250 area residents, white and black, broke bread together to celebrate the life of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., the civil rights martyr of the turbulent 1960s whose leadership helped bring the races together.

The event was the 35-anniversary Martin Luther King Jr. Scholarship Banquet at the Holiday Inn, which featured the Rev. Lewis M. Anthony as keynote speaker.

Anthony is pastor of Saint Lucille AME Zion Church in Washington, D.C., and the city’s youth representative and youth adviser. A graduate of Columbia and Harvard universities, he is director for ecumenical affairs and government relations for the mid-Atlantic II Episcopal District of AME Zion Church.

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Anthony also serves as chaplain of the metropolitan police and fire departments.

The speaker challenged the audience on its faith, conscience, convictions and courage.

Speaking more from the pulpit than the podium, Anthony said, “People of faith have to do more than just be comfortable; people of conscience must take their truths to those in power; people of conviction must remain vigilant and people of the cross must never be afraid to die.”

The event was organized in 1978 by local black community leaders Leonard Harris and Rosabell Roman.

“I remember going to Martinsburg High School graduations back in those days when only the white students got awards. Black students never got them,” Roman said.

She and Harris established the banquet to raise scholarship money “for students of all races because that’s what Dr. King wanted,” Roman said.

“We started out with $500 scholarships and today it’s $1,000. We’ve given more than 170 scholarships over the years,” she said.

The scholarships honor academic achievement, community service and financial need, said Stefanie Pierson, treasurer of the scholarship committee.

Jim Tolbert, secretary of the Jefferson County Black History Preservation Society in Charles Town, W.Va., said it is important for the community to keep King’s memory alive.

“If it wasn’t for him, we wouldn’t be where we are today,” he said.

Tickets for the banquet cost $35. The money brought in only pays for the meal and rental of the hall, Roman said. Scholarship money comes from donations from individuals and businesses, she said.

“Last year, we had enough money for 11 scholarships,” she said.

The large dining room was peppered with white faces, many there because of the sales ability of Virginia Sine, Berkeley County Circuit Clerk. She sells the most tickets every year, targeting fellow employees in the official halls of Berkeley County and in the local business community.

“I’ve been selling tickets from day one,” Sine said. “I started out selling 10 tickets, then 20. This year, I sold 40. I sell mostly to politicians and public officials. I just don’t ask them if they want a ticket, I ask them how many do they want. The kids need these scholarships.”

Attending the banquet was Carolyn Stuart, recently appointed by Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin as West Virginia’s first director of the Herbert Henderson Office of Minority Affairs. The office will deal with and fund issues that affect minorities across the state. The office, based in Charleston, W.Va., will eventually have satellite offices, Stuart said.

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