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Palmetto Youth Center honors community leaders (with gallery) with King’s spirit

PALMETTO -- While Martin Luther King Jr. preached it, Palmetto’s Raymond Bellamy lived it.

The former Lincoln Memorial High star made his own play for racial equality, breaking the color barrier on the University of Miami football team in 1966 on his way to a professional career.

A contemporary in King’s march for equality, Bellamy said the civil rights icon’s vision for a world without racial divides is being realized in Manatee County.

“Just look at you,” Bellamy said Friday during the 18th annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Humanitarian Awards Banquet. “If Dr. King was here tonight, wow. You know how excited he would be? This is what he talked about. This is what he dreamed about.

“And we’re about it.”

On Friday, Bellamy, now 61 and the coordinator of student services at Florida A&M in Tallahassee, received the Trailblazer Award before a sell-out crowd of about 600 at the Palmetto Youth Center.

After making national headlines by becoming the Hurricanes’ first black player, Bellamy welcomed King to speak on campus as Miami’s first black student-body president. Bellamy was forced to lead King into the auditorium through a kitchen because the main entrances were reserved for whites.

But Bellamy insists it was his upbringing in Palmetto and Manatee County, not a national leader, that assured him he could accomplish anything.

“People, Ray Bellamy is not legendary,” he said. “It’s this community that’s legendary. ... The Lord is with you all.”

The winners of the MLK Speech and Essay Contest delivered their speeches during the banquet. Madelyn Kumar, a sixth-grader at Nolan Middle, and Dakota Lawson, a freshman at Southeast High, inspired standing ovations with their heartfelt tributes to King.

Bellamy was one of five award recipients at Friday’s ceremony. The awards honored the recipients for exemplifying King’s spirit of love, peace and fairness as well as his willingness to pave the way for others.

Among the other award winners:

n Gwendolyn Holmes McElroy, a secretary/registrar at Lincoln Middle School for 40 years and co-founder of Tabernacle of Higher Learning Christian Center Inc., received the Louise Rogers Johnson Humanitarian Award.

“I do not do what I do to receive recognition from man,” McElroy told the audience. “I do what I do so that God can be recognized through me and receive all the glory.”

n CPA Byron E. Shinn, the president and managing partner of Shinn & Co. LLC, won the Edgar H. Price Humanitarian Award.

“Both Dr. King and Senator Price are shining examples of what I’d like to become,” Shinn said.

n Bradenton Herald Executive Editor and Vice President Joan Krauter won the Outstanding Citizenship Award. Krauter has led the Herald’s newsroom since 1998.

“Central to the thinking of Martin Luther King is the concept of the ‘Beloved Community,’” Krauter said. “Well, this community has more heart and soul than any other place I’ve ever lived. So, as the editor of Manatee County’s main news source, it’s a sobering responsibility to be the soul and the conscience of this community. But that’s my lifelong passion, and what we strive for every day at the Herald.”

n Palmetto business owner and golf instructor Elihu Wallace received the Seymour E. Sailes Small Business Award.

In a short speech, Wallace left the audience with a sentiment King surely would endorse.

“May the work I’ve done speak for me,” he said.