Events honor King's legacy

Tuesday, January 22, 2008
Darrien Thomas, 5, and Peighton Robinson, 6, sang "Lift Every Voice and Sing" at the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Breakfast Monday at the Osage Community Centre. (Fred Lynch)

Former Cape Central Middle School principal Frank Ellis and his wife Sylvia were surprised when their names were called as winners of the Dr. C. John Ritter Humanitarian Award.

So instead of making the honor about themselves, they let the children whose lives they touched in the Cape Girardeau school system be the stars of the show.

The Ellises were two of six people and organizations to receive the Ritter award -- named after a now-deceased local doctor with a commitment to humanitarian service -- this year. Awards were presented during the Martin Luther King Jr. Citywide Celebration on Monday.

Sylvia Ellis, who still works in the Cape Girardeau school system at Central Junior High School, called up all the children in the audience who knew her and her husband. By the time they assembled, the group took up the entire area in front of the stage and numbered in the dozens, if not 100.

"I'm a behind-the-scenes type of person," Sylvia Ellis said while Frank stood quietly with her. "I don't come with a bunch of MS's or Ph.D's behind my name, but I come with a love for the kids."

The Rev. Ervin Williams was the keynote speaker Monday at the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Breakfast at the Osage Community Centre. (Fred Lynch)

The City Wide Celebration Committee also gave awards Cape Central Junior High principal Roy Merideth and the Cape Girardeau Board of Education for providing a space at the junior high for Boys and Girls Club programs; local carpenter Charles Mosley, posthumously, for donating his skills to help people and organizations with carpentry work; and Xavier Bland, who runs a 20-member girls' youth group for underprivileged children at House of Prayer and who has taken five children from broken homes into her own.

Mosley was allegedly murdered by his son Clayton last January. Clayton Mosley was found to be schizophrenic by a court and didn't stand trial. Members of Mosley's family, including his wife Betty, accepted the award in a highly emotional moment.

Frank Ellis said he and his wife were surprised to be awarded for working with children, which is just part of their normal life.

"We've worked with children practically all our adult lives," he said. "It's a calling from God. It's just something we do."

The city school board opted not to re-hire Ellis last April in a 5-2 vote. Ellis worked in the district for 19 years and was middle school principal since 2002.

When the vote was made public, several students and parents rallied around Ellis, who now works in the Meridian school district in Southern Illinois.

The awards were given at the seventh annual Martin Luther King Jr. Humanitarian Luncheon.

The event at the Osage Community Centre was one of three that took place on Monday.

The Rev. Charles Brown Sr. of St. Louis gave the keynote address, a passionate speech about the need to keep pressing for more racial equality in order for King's vision to become a reality.

"As I reflect on the legacy and dream today, I am led to ask this question: Are we there yet? ..." Brown said. "The answer that I would give to you is no, not yet."

Those who become complacent and think there's no more work to be done are only participating in perpetuating inequality, he said.

And while some black Americans have become successful and great strides toward equality have been made, he urged successful people of all races to help those less fortunate.

Helping others was the theme of the luncheon and the entire day, said event organizer Debra Mitchell-Braxton.

"This isn't a black event, it's a humanitarian event," she said.

Earlier in the day, Cape Gir-ardeau native and leader of Urban Restoration Ministries based in Champaign, Ill., spoke at the 23rd annual King memorial breakfast.

Braxton estimated about 1,000 people attended both events combined, with slightly more attendance at the luncheon. A large amount of food was donated for local food pantries and school supplies for impoverished school children.

The event also brought in a large amount of money for the King scholarship at Southeast Missouri State University, but organizers hadn't counted the donations yet.

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