A mural honoring Martin Luther King Jr. at Girard College

tribune correspondent

As the nation honored the late Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., the Philadelphia Martin Luther King, Jr. Association for Nonviolence held its annual Awards and Benefit Luncheon on Monday. The organization honored local community leaders and activists with its annual “Drum Major” awards.

The “Drum Major” awards are named in honor of King’s famous 1968 “Drum Major Instinct” speech, which was the last high-profile speech of his life and when he famously said that he “hoped to be a drum major for peace.” The honorees were recognized for their philanthropic and community service in the Philadelphia community.

This year’s honorees included Philadelphia Sheriff Jewell Williams and Laborers International of North America Local Union 332 Business Manager Samuel Staten, Radio One Founder and CEO Cathy Hughes, and 97-year-old New Jersey election worker Laura Wooten.

“When you’re a 97-year-old Black woman, [voting] is a topic where you have a lot to say,” said Wooten, a native of Princeton, New Jersey. She worked her first election in 1939 at the age of just 18, and has worked every election since.

“You know that elections matter,” she said. “And — God willing — I’ll be right there at the Lawrence Road firehouse helping out at the polls in 2020.”

Previous “Drum Major” honorees include Joe Frazier, J. Whyatt Mondesire, Sheryl Lee Ralph, Cicely Tyson, Nelson Mandela, Dick Gregory, Rosa Parks and Donald “Ducky” Birts.

Other 2019 honorees included Ken Harbin and Gina Ross, who were honored for their 14 and 12 years respectively with the organization with the C. Delores Tucker Volunteer Award. The organization was founded by the late activist in 1983.

A number of elected officials also attended the luncheon, including Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney and Democratic U.S. Sen. Bob Casey.

“When I think of Martin Luther King, the one word I think of is justice,” Casey said. “By commemorating his legacy; by fighting for justice every day of the year — not just on MLK Day — you pay tribute to his legacy for fighting for justice.”

Casey noted the Martin Luther King Jr. Association for Nonviolence could not hold its annual ceremonial ringing of the Liberty Bell because the bell was closed due to the government shutdown. The senator spoke during the luncheon and had a pointed message to Donald Trump regarding the ongoing.

“This shutdown could end tomorrow morning when I go back to Washington,” Casey said, taking Republican Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell to task. “We can talk for a long time after the government’s open, about border security or anything else. The House did its job and acted responsibly.

“Now you have the leader of the Senate Republicans in league with the President, who shut the government down, so now you only have two people who can open this government,” he added. “Pass the bill in the Senate and open the government first and get the people back to work.”

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