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By Jennifer Warren
POUGHKEEPSIE – “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”
These words were uttered by Martin Luther King, Jr. and once again were quoted, resonating loudly at Friday’s 26th Annual Martin Luther King Jr. Breakfast, put on by the 94 year-old non-profit community based organization, Catharine Street Community Center, at Poughkeepsie’s Civic Center.
Here, a large turnout could be found early in the morning, paying tribute to several community members who have had a strong voice in affecting pressing issues, people who have taken action, refusing to be silent. They are community members who embody much of what Dr. King strove to inspire in others, persistence, humanity, selflessness, and so much more.
The community Honorees this year were Barbara Davis and Thad Jones. Davis, a Catharine Street Center product, has been a longtime volunteer, including roles as answering calls for the YMCA’s Battered Woman’s Hot Line, a three-time YMCA Board Member, tutor to kindergarteners and first graders, office worker for Walkway over the Hudson and member at her Bethel Missionary Baptist Church. Jones, who worked for IBM for over 33 years, has been both a board member and chairman at the Hudson Valley Federal Credit Union as well as a board member for United Way, Rehabilitation Programs and the Hudson Valley Chapter of the National Accounting Chapter. Upon accepting his honor Friday, he alluded to having had seen Dr. King in person and the profound effect that had on him.
On the youth end, two local high school students were honored: Roy C. Ketcham’s Naraya Price and Poughkeepsie’s Neliekah Wallace. Price, who is headed to Duke University in the fall to pursue majors in Cultural Anthropology and Biology, aspires to work with Doctors Without Borders. With several distinct leadership and volunteer roles already to her credit, Price has been incited to action by Dr. Kings’ altruistic vision.
“Dr. King’s legacy will live on,” said Price. “He inspired me to be the best version of myself; I promise to continue to make you all proud.”
Wallace too intends to enter the medical field, having her sites set on a nursing career. A native of Jamaica, she too has taken on a vast number of leadership and volunteer roles in both her school and community. Presently, her energies are aimed at actively involving youth at the R.E.A.L. Skills Network where she guides challenged youth toward success in a variety of areas. Her heartfelt passion to help all people is evident in each of her endeavors.
“If I pay close attention, I will learn something each day,” Wallace told a room full of attendees at the Breakfast. “Just as Martin Luther King Jr. said, ‘Take the first step in faith; you don’t have to see the whole staircase, just take the first step.”
Following the tribute to this year’s honorees, a 15 minute video clip of the guest speaker’s work was revealed on a large screen. Here, the audience was treated to award-winning, in-depth news coverage being conducted by Bill Whitaker, presently in his third season with 60 Minutes. The long-time CBS news correspondent, who has reported from all over the world on potent issues that have had a pivotal effect on millions of lives, was quick to cite the physical beauty of the Hudson Valley landscape. The setting was not all that he was impressed by, the people too left an impression on him.
“I think all of you here today deserve to be honored; it’s people like you and communities like yours, that continue to make America great,” affirmed Whitaker.
Dubbing himself an optimist, who believes strongly in people and their ability to get things right, Whitaker reminded the audience it’s that very notion that has kept him in the news industry for so long. When asked how he can continue to be surrounded on a daily basis by so many depressing stories, he remains that eternal optimist.
“I have seen humans at their best and worst, and on this day of Trump’s innauguration, I have to ask myself what Dr. King would do,” posed Whitaker. “He would probably ask us to keep on pressing on; there is a lot to be angry about, but we need to channel those feelings toward change.”
Whitaker, reflecting upon some of those graphic, riveting and sometimes dismal stories that have defined his career (race and policing in America, a longtime wrongful imprisonment, and the biggest data leak in Swiss banking history among them), continued to assert a positive vibe to his listeners.
“Make your voice heard, take initiative, engage, and act,” stressed the Emmy-Award winning correspondent. “We have tools to create our more perfect union; we, the people, have the power to shape our future; never, ever lose sight of that.”