PALMETTO -- Above all, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. believed one person could make a difference.
One has to believe if Dr. King were seated in the audience during the Palmetto Youth Center’s 19th Annual MLK Banquet Friday, he, too, would have had goose bumps listening to how teenagers Jordan Sanders and Monica Esquivel believe they can change the world from Manatee County.
Jordan and Monica are the first-place winners from high school and middle school respectively in the 2012 Martin Luther King Jr. Essay and Speech Contest.
Monica’s speech drew gasps from the crowd of 500 for its honesty and raw emotion. She talked of being only 13 and knowing too much already about shootings, guns, death and drugs. She talked about not being able to sleep soundly for fear of a home invasion.
But she also talked of how the trauma she sees has deepened her appreciation for her family’s love for each other and for her, and how essential love is, which, of course, is something Dr. King never ceased to preach.
Jordan was so open and honest about himself in his speech he received a standing ovation and, after he returned to his seat, many approached him, including one man who whispered, “I think you will make a difference in this world.”
The speeches were just a small part of a triumphant evening in King’s honor, including five special awards that were presented by the Palmetto Youth Center to community members.
Rep. Jim Boyd, elected in 2010 to the Florida House of Representatives, received The Edgar H. Price, Jr. Humanitarian Award.
Manatee County commissioner Carol Whitmore was awarded The Louise Johnson Humanitarian Award.
Slick, who goes by one name, and Jane Hunter of Slick’s Garage were presented The Small Business Owner Award.
“These three awards were created to pay tribute to the invaluable efforts made by exemplary Manatee County citizens who go above and beyond normal expectations to help others and exhibit the same spirit of love, peace and benevolence that Dr. King displayed,” said Chris Lukowiak, executive director of the Palmetto Youth Center.
The 2012 Outstanding Citizen Award was created to honor an individual who has demonstrated high standards of fairness, justice and has upheld the ideals of Dr. King and that went to former Palmetto city commissioner Mary Lee Lancaster.
Public defender Larry Eger received The Government Award, which recognizes public officials who have improved the lives of people in their communities.
Jordan started off by telling the audience of 500 that Martin Luther King Jr. could have stayed a simple man, preaching to his congregation and spending time with his family. But King felt a call and made a choice, That choice, a choice by one simple man, changed the world, Jordan said.
It was obvious to the audience that Jordan had decided that he, too, could make such a choice. But what would it be?
“As a young African-American male, coming from a single parent home, I can refuse to be part of some statistic on violence or the drop-out rate,” Jordan said. “I can choose to be the change I want to see in the world. I choose to be non-violent. I choose to use my talents as a positive influence in my community. I choose to respect my family. It is through these daily choices that I am helping change the world.”
Jordan indicated that his choice has not been easy.
“Many young men my age are packing guns and spewing hatred,” Jordan said. “I choose not to. I choose to be a man of peace.”
Richard Dymond, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-748-0411, ext. 6686.