By Micha Green
AFRO D.C. Editor

For almost four decades, the Prince George’s County chapter of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) celebrated the life and legacy of its first president Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. with their annual banquet.  The 39th Annual Banquet Celebration Honoring Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s Birthday was hosted on Jan. 19 at the La Fontaine Bleue in New Carrolton, MD, with this year’s commemoration doubling as a moment to posthumously pay tribute to the organization’s former Board Member, Dr. Walter Ridley Jr., and his contributions to the organization and community. 

Sherman Hardy, a spokesman for the organization, shared why the 2020 celebration, like every year, served as a means of seeing how far the United States and Black community has come, as a result of Dr. King and other freedom fighters.

“We host it to commemorate Dr. King’s Birthday and as a reminder of the lives that were lost and the blood that was shed to get us to where we are today,” he said.

The 39th Annual Banquet Celebration Honoring Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s Birthday, hosted by the Prince George’s County chapter of SCLC, was hosted on Jan. 19 at La Fontaine Bleue in New Carrolton, MD. (Courtesy Photo)

Hardy also said that SCLC uses the event as a thermometer on today’s racial climate.

“Yet today, we are still seeing many acts of racism.  So some may say, ‘How have we improved?’”

The event allows for communion and empowerment so that participants leave armed to continue Dr. King’s legacy. 

After 39 years, Hardy explained that the Prince George’s County SCLC Chapters continues the banquet, “to bring people together and fellowship, while listening to guest speakers who were part of the movement, and to be a constant reminder that our work is not yet done and we still have a ways before we get to the mountaintop.”

In posthumously honoring former Board Member, Ridley, the local SCLC chapter is also reminding attendees that one’s work, good deeds and passions for helping others in various facets can be ways of continuing King’s legacy.

“He was instrumental in assisting so many returning citizens to return to the population and to have meaningful job to support their families,” Hardy said about Ridley.  “He assisted us in putting on forums to educate the public on mass incarceration and the toll it takes on people of color and families.”

Honoring Ridley was part of the organization’s efforts this year to honor community leaders in such a major way.

“This year is the first time that we are recognizing extraordinary citizens who are making headway in our community and are fighting for equity,” he said. 

The 2020 banquet honoring Dr. King broke barriers that honored not only the fallen Civil Rights hero, but his wife as well.

“For the first time in over 30 years the President is a female and it will be the first time that the Coretta Scott King Award will be awarded,” Hardy said of the historic and groundbreaking moment for the local chapter of SCLC.  “

With Rev. Dr. Sylvia Tucker as the chapter president, SCLC is also highlighting the major contributions of women during the peak of the Civil Rights Movement. 

“Many praises are given to the men that were in the Civil Rights Movement, but very little notoriety is given to the women that stood and marched with these men,” Hardy said. “Mrs. King and other women were with Dr. King on many of those marches,” he said.

The Prince George’s County SCLC spokesman also proudly spoke on the contributions of younger chapter members and the potential for the next generation of leaders. 

“We have more millennials who are now a part of the Prince Georges County SCLC- the next generation of leaders, who will take the torch and carry it from the more seasoned leaders,” he said.

Micha Green

AFRO Washington, D.C. Editor