PALMETTO -- Five special individuals were honored Friday at the 21st Annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Gala and Banquet at the Palmetto Youth Center.
But even with the lofty achievements and contributions of honorees Carl Weeks, Pastor Samida Johnson, Craig Robson, Ed Bailey and Ed Brodsky, the five could not wrest the spotlight completely away from 10 children from the Palmetto Youth Center.
The children were coached for three weeks by actors with Sarasota's Florida Studio Theater. At the Youth Center, the 10 performed a play called "Unity" before an enthusiastic crowd of 400.
The 20-minute dramatic reading was based on Dr. King's "I Have A Dream," speech and received a standing ovation.
The children, in their own words, were asked to interpret Dr. King's speech, said Jason Cannon, as associate artist at Florida Studio Theater.
"They were impressive,"
Cannon said after the performance.
Many of the 10 students talked about bullying, making it clear it was the racism of their generation.
They also made it clear that they feel strongly for those marginalized and forgotten.
One actor, India Sunshine White, 12, of Lincoln Middle School, implored the crowd to reach out to sad and lonely people they see on the street and tell them, "You don't have to walk alone."
India told the audience that her own grandmother, Marie Newell, walks with her so she doesn't have to ever be alone, as do her pastor and Classy Neely, a trusted teacher.
"They see the world in their own ways," said Madeline Pearson of the Palmetto Youth Center. "Instead of racism, they see bullying."
As the jubilant children ran off the stage, they didn't realize another remarkable moment was about to occur.
Ray Bellamy, the former Lincoln Memorial High School Trojan who broke the color barrier of major college football in the south when he signed to play for the University of Miami in 1966, burst through the rear door.
He was filled with emotion.
"Where are those kids!" he yelled out.
He brought all the children together.
"I just wanted to tell you as I was sitting out there listening to you, you brought back memories," Bellamy told the students.
When Miami decided it was going to break down the color barrier, Bradenton's Ed Dick, a Miami graduate, was the person the school contacted, Bellamy told the children.
Bellamy explained that he and Dick broke down barriers by perseverance, and the students could, too.
"You are the very kids who Dr. King was speaking about in his speech," an emotional Bellamy said. "You keep going. Don't ever quit."
The child actors included Jaydn King, 8, of Tara Elementary School and Darriana Kelly, 10, of Palm View Elementary.
Three were from Palmetto Elementary School, including Marcial Salas, 8, Yahir Salas, 9, and Samantha Sales, 11.
Five were from Lincoln Middle, including Isamarie Flores, 11, Nayeli Salas, 12, India White, 12, Isabella Martinez, 14 and Michael Torres, Jr.
Five share the spotlight
Weeks, the recently retired president of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Manatee County, was presented The Edgar H. Price, Jr. Humanitarian Award.
"I'm blessed in so many ways," an overcome Weeks said.
Weeks was introduced by perhaps his greatest fan, Manatee County Judge Robert A. Farrance .
"Carl Weeks made the Boys & Girls Club what it is today," Farrance said.
Samida Johnson , pastor and teacher of Tabernacle of Higher Learning Christian Center Inc., was presented with The Louise Johnson Humanitarian Award.
The outreach ministries of her church are numerous, including issues facing at-risk teenage girls.
The Small Business Owner Award went to a Manatee County unsung hero, Craig Robson of Superior Asphalt, Inc.
"I have the most modest husband in the world," said Julia Denise Robson. "But when people first meet him, they never forget him. He has a big heart."
The Robsons have done so much for the community that there is a road at the Palmetto Fairgrounds named Superior Asphalt Way, Julia Robson said.
"We're locally run and owned with 85 employees," Craig Robson said.
Ed Bailey won The Outstanding Citizenship Award, honoring an individual who has demonstrated high standards of fairness, justice and the ideals of Dr. King.
Bailey, a former president of the Manatee County NAACP who gave up his post to run for Supervisor of Elections, is now vice chairman of the Board of Trustees at State College of Florida, appointed to his alma mater by Gov. Rick Scott.
State Attorney Ed Brodsky was awarded The Government Service Award, which recognizes and honors public officials who have made significant contributions to improving the lives of the people in their communities, said Chris Lukowiak, executive director of the Palmetto Youth Center.
Richard Dymond, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7072 or via Twitter @ RichardDymond.