PALMETTO -- The Palmetto Youth Center was filled to the brim with the Who's Who of Manatee County Friday evening as a handful of individuals were honored at the 22nd Annual Martin Luther King Jr. Banquet.
Those honored included Palmetto Mayor Shirley Groover-Bryant, Rep. Darryl Rouson, community organizer Ineda Edwards and local business owner Mildred Moten-Golden.
Tanya Lukowiak, the wife of Palmetto Youth Center Director Chris Lukowiak, also received a surprise award for her contributions to the center.
Hosted by 12th Circuit Court Judge Charles E. Williams, the night included songs, a performance by members of Florida Studio Theater and local youth and a video detailing the life of the late Thurgood Marshall, the country's first African-American Supreme Court associate chief justice.
Two winners of the 14th Annual Martin Luther King Jr. Essay and Speech Competition also recited their pieces to the crowd of more than 300.
Mildred Moten-Golden, 61, was visibly emotional after receiving the Small Business Award. In 2006, she opened her own independent insurance agency, Moten-Golden Insurance, which she now operates out of Bradenton.
"I am excited. The dream does live on," she said after pointing out some of the successes of her three daughters and grandchildren. "God is good."
Palmetto Mayor Groover Bryant, 67, received the Government Award. Before being elected mayor in 2008, she served as the City of Palmetto Ward 2 representative on the City of Palmetto City Commission from 1993 to 2004.
"I feel I have to accept the award this evening on behalf of who I came from, which is my parents and my family, that instilled the love and caring for people," Groover Bryant said, before sharing personal stories about her upbringing.
During his acceptance of the Edgar J. Price Jr. Humanitarian Award, Rep. Rouson mentioned Marilyn Lopez and Sjondi George, the two teens who shared their award-winning speeches earlier that night, and the concept of giving back to one's community.
"I accept this only in light of -- we are important only as much as we give back to our communities, to our families and to our neighborhoods," he said.
The 60-year-old politician has many firsts -- he was the first African-American appointed to the St. Petersburg Times board of directors and, according to his biography, the first African-American appointed as captain by the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office.
Ineda Edwards, who works for Tropicana, received the Louise Johnson Humanitarian Award. In 1993, the Bradenton resident started the Lady Elite Club, which mentors youth. She's also the first African-American woman to sit on the executive board of Local 173, which is affiliated with International Brotherhood of Teamsters.
"I just thank God for being here and giving an opportunity whereas you saw fit to honor me tonight," the 66-year-old said. "I am thankful for just standing here to receive this award because it gives me the option to keep on keeping on."
Amaris Castillo, law enforcement/island reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7051. Follow her on Twitter @AmarisCastillo.