BRADENTON -- Dressed in their finest, Manatee County residents came out Saturday to honor five community leaders by promoting political and economic change locally.
The Manatee County National Association for the Advancement of Colored People gathered to celebrate at their annual Freedom and Awards Program at the Courtyard Marriott, 100 Riverfront Drive in Bradenton.
The late Robert "Smitty" Smith, lifetime achievement award;
Jimmy Delgado, business award;
Patricia Benson, community service award;
Wayne Washington, unsung hero; and
St. Paul Missionary Baptist Church and Mt. Raymond Full Gospel Church, NAACP life memberships.
Smith was honored posthumously for his legacy of giving opportunities to those in the minority communities for more than 50 years, beginning during a time when it was not common practice.
"That's what good people do. That's what good leaders do," Manatee NAACP President Susie Copeland said.
At a time when Manatee County was a farming community, he made a success of his family business and went to create other businesses, she added.
Among Smith's many accomplishments were being a deacon at Greater St. Luke Primitive Church in Palmet
to, a leader of his local Masonic Lodge, membership on various local government boards and, along with his family, providing up to 300 people with Thanksgiving and Christmas meals for more than 50 years.
The other honorees were equally impressive, speakers said.
For man with such humble beginnings, Delgado and his law firm , Kaklis, Little & Delgado, did much for the community, Copeland said.
"For a Mexican kid who grew up in the Lulac Apartments, to come here, it's like coming full circle," Delgado said.
Recently, he said a client wrote him a thank you note and presented him with a plaque in Spanish for his upcoming award.
"This is why I do what I do," he recalled thinking.
When it comes to community service, Benson puts her money where her mouth is, according to Copeland.
"Patty isn't just talk. If she sees a need, she pulls out her check book," Copeland said.
It's in her nature, Benson said.
"I'm the oldest of eight, and my parents always instilled in us education, work values and do what you can for your community," she said. "And they always sent us to church, even if they were working."
More often than not, her community work translates into long days, but she said she doesn't mind.
"I enjoy the things that I do," Benson said.
Washington is a new breed, Copeland said.
People come once a month to his creation, Straight Talk, to openly talk about issues.
"When something happens in the community, he rallies people together and they march," Copeland said. "He is truly an unsung hero."
Washington said being recognized with an award made him feel like he was truly speaking for those who are not heard.
"It gives them a voice," Washington said. "I definitely want to be that reflection for them with my actions."
Honoring churches as lifetime members was also important part of the evening.
"They saw the need and they became lifelong members," Copeland said. "And that's good. We want more churches in the community to become lifelong members."
Jessica De Leon, Herald law enforcement reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7049. You can follow her on Twitter @JDeLeon1012.