More than 100 guests gathered at Martin’s West in Baltimore County on Jan. 20 to celebrate Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day and honor the community groups and leaders who have distinguished themselves with the same type of service that the late civil rights leader advocated.

King would have been 85 years old this year, and although he was assasinated in 1968, the leaders that have risen in his stead are doing everything in their power to further his dream.

“Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. speaks about service and the importance of serving around you,” said Trina Kumodzi. “It doesn’t have to be on a large scale—it’s about commitment.”

Kumodzi, 36, is a member of the Black Nurses Association of Baltimore, one of the organizations recognized for their efforts in improving health education throughout the Baltimore-Washington area.

“It’s an honor to be recognized by the community that sees what nurses are doing,” said another honoree, Dr. Ronnie Ursin, the current president of the nurses’ association begun by Beverly Mason in 1974.

Several state and county officials were on hand, including Baltimore County Executive Kevin B. Kamenetz and Delegate Jon S. Cardin.

“We need to stay two steps ahead of the new challenges facing our families in the community. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. did that his entire life,” said Cardin. “We need to make sure that we realize his mission.”

Giving thanks to the Kings Landing Women’s Service Club, Sen. Lisa Gladden also took to the podium before speaker Mark Thompson, host of XM Satellite’s “Make It Plain,” addressed the audience.

Thompson acknowledged the Women’s Service Club for their dedication to recognizing King’s legacy long before his birthday became a national holiday.

“It was not something that was easy for us to achieve in a country with Congress and states that were opposed to this holiday,” said Thompson, who highlighted many areas that still need attention and hard work required to move the country forward.

“Even today we find that the Voting Rights Act is under siege and under attack,” he said. “In Dr. King’s final days he was all about economic justice. We have to pick up where he left off.”

“The unemployment gap is still high—twice that of whites. The struggle continues,” Thompson said, citing recent Bureau of Labor Statistics information that placed Black unemployment at 13.8 percent, compared to 6.6 percent for Whites. “I think it’s time that we consider where we are. From crime, to poverty and racism itself—it is our duty to continue the struggle. It is our duty to return.”

“This is how we celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. Day every day,” he added. “This is how we celebrate and remind ourselves and the next generation that Dr. King is not dead.”

Along with the Baltimore’s Black Nurses Association, other honorees included Cameron E. Miles of Mentoring Males in the Hood, Catherine Trotter of House of New Beginnings, and Robert J. Strupp of Baltimore Neighborhoods, Inc.

“MLK was an inspiration,” said Mildred M. Samy, co-founder of Moms of Murdered Sons. “He stood up for inequalities and bringing people together through nonviolence.”

After the murder of her 25-year-old son, Samuel David Horne Jr., in 2007, Samy began to seek out other mothers who have lost children to violence. When her son’s friend Tariq Sharif Alston was gunned down the very next year, Samy joined forces with his mother, Daphne Alston, to begin the organization.

“I think what’s happening with our young Black men and women is a challenge,” Alston told the AFRO. “We’ve dropped the baton and we are losing our kids. When you lose them, you lose the future.”

“Who knows if the next Martin Luther King Jr. has already been killed? Or the next Ben Carson, or the next leader of the NAACP? Who’s going to carry on the dream on?” she added.

Risyl Edelman of Northwest Neighbors Connecting and Robert Cradle, founder and operator of Rob’s Barbershop Community Foundation, were also honored. Jewel Perry received the Youth Achievement Award.


Alexis Taylor

AFRO Staff Writer