Leaders call for education at annual Tampa Bay MLK Day breakfast

A large gathering of people rose early Monday to celebrate the spirit of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in downtown Tampa at an annual breakfast hosted by the Tampa Organization of Black Affairs.

During the event, which began at 6:45 a.m., speakers hammered two points: that women have not been recognized for their work in the civil rights movement, and that the job of educating people about America’s history is never done.

“King’s ‘I Have a Dream’ speech was ultimately about his children,” said keynote speaker Roslyn Clark Artis, the president of Benedict College, a historically Black college in Columbia, S.C. “We must take ownership of our history and ensure that our children are complete with the full measure of their legacy. We must never permit ourselves or our children to participate in the downplaying of the sacrifices of our ancestors.”

Among those in the crowd were Tampa Mayor Jane Castor, state Rep. Fentrice Driskell, U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor and state Rep. Dianne Hart, all Democrats, along with local nonprofit and business leaders.

The breakfast has taken place for 43 years. The Tampa Organization of Black Affairs was founded in 1979 with the intention of giving Black people in the city a platform to share concerns about and make plans for the region’s economic, political and social development.

The group has worked on efforts to register Black voters, hosted candidate forums, sponsored scholarship funds and developed a leadership institute for young professionals.

Besides Martin Luther King Jr., the breakfast honored women in the civil rights movement, whose names have taken a backseat to men of the time. Among them are Septima Poinsette Clark, an educator, activist and the daughter of a former slave, and Diane Nash, who was instrumental in organizing students for nonviolent protests.

Also remembered was Mahalia Jackson, a gospel singer who was standing behind King the day that he took the steps of the Lincoln Memorial and delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech. As King spoke, Jackson yelled from behind: “Tell them about the dream, Martin!”

Artis, formerly the president of Florida Memorial University, spoke of unfinished work from that iconic speech on Monday. She said Black people in the United States have not been afforded the same “American dream.”

“The solution to injustice is not silence, it is raising our voices. We need allies,” Artis said. “Our communities must dream like King.”