In honor of Martin Luther King Jr. Day, the Ministers Alliance of Rhode Island hosted their annual M.L.K. Scholarship Breakfast yesterday at Rhodes on the Pawtuxet in Cranston. Twenty students attending colleges in Rhode Island and across the country were awarded scholarships to help them achieve their dreams of higher education in honor of Dr. King’s legacy.
Over the past 31 years, the Ministers Alliance has awarded $447,000 through this scholarship fund.
“We are here to celebrate freedom. We are here to celebrate unity. We are here to celebrate these wonderful young people who have blessed us with their presence, commitment and work and impacted our lives as much as we have impacted theirs,” said Rev. Jabulani McCalister in the morning’s Statement of Purpose. “But most importantly, we’re here to celebrate a call to action that we are to continue to embrace the unity, to continue to fight for freedom and to continue to make sure opportunities for our young people continue to flourish and doors continue to open so that they can create a legacy that continues far beyond their life on this earth.”
In addition to scholarship recipients, their families, and members and supporters of the Ministers Alliance, a number of state and city leaders attended the breakfast to celebrate the success of these young people and give them words of encouragement, including Congressman David Cicilline, Senator Jack Reed, Lt. Governor Elizabeth Roberts, Cranston Mayor Allan Fung and Providence Mayor Angel Taveras.
Many of the event’s special V.I.P. guests were invited on stage to speak, along with two special keynote speakers; many tied the legacy of Dr. King and the importance of dreams into their remarks.
One scholarship recipient, 62-year-old Simon Davis who is currently enrolled at the Community College of Rhode Island, was selected to share his story. Davis said he was encouraged to pursue his dream of going to college after speaking with his pastor, Rev. Dr. Jeffery Williams.
“He spoke to me about walking with a vision and also about walking towards your destiny,” recalled Davis. “So after hearing that, I took some steps toward that destiny and as he always likes to say, ‘you have to make movement. Miracles happen when you make a movement.’”
Davis also thanked all of those who reach out to students and make a difference in the lives of all students.
Roberts then spoke, acknowledging that the legacy of Dr. King should be remembered not just on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, but every day.
“This is a day when we reflect,” said Roberts, acknowledging that a number of people in the room, including herself, can recall when Dr. King was alive. “I remember the challenges he posed to our country. And how some of us resisted those challenges and how some of us still resist those challenges that he laid before us.”
Roberts said the day was a call to remember the legacy of Dr. King, and the ideals and challenge he presented to the country. She applauded the Ministers Alliance in their goal of honoring that legacy through their work and the scholarship fund.
Fung took a few moments to recognize not only his fellow elected officials, but also the business and community leaders who attend and support this movement every year.
“All of us are here year after year because we recognize the important work of the Ministers Alliance,” he said.
Prior to the start of the speaking program, Fung addressed the importance of the day’s event.
“Today is also about impressing upon them the legacy of Dr. King; that legacy will hopefully stay with the students past today,” said Fung. “There’s still a lot of challenges ahead of us.”
Fung said honoring these students with a scholarship was only one part of the mission to improve their future; improving economic development in the state is another.
He saw today as a call for action for those in the room who have the power to make changes for the better in the state.
“We as a society are failing those students if we are not providing the proper economic opportunities for them that we have had,” said Fung, adding that the best state export cannot be the younger generation.
“There has to be a lot more economic opportunities,” said Fung, adding that more economic development should help keep students in the state if they choose. “I want to make sure they have that choice.”
Congressman Cicilline also spoke about the importance of providing equal opportunities for all, addressing issues in Washington with policies and situations that only make the rich richer and the powerful more powerful.
Senator Reed acknowledged that Dr. King fought for and eventually gave his life for freedom, and today we have a responsibility to continue the fight for freedom.
“[Dr. King] understood that freedom had to be married with justice and opportunity,” said Reed. “And so ladies and gentlemen, every year we come together on this day and stand with Dr. King, but the question is in the days ahead, in Rhode Island and in Washington, will we stand with Dr. King?”
Tavares also attended the breakfast to share his belief in Dr. King’s legacy and the importance of educating students.
“It’s always important to remember Dr. King’s legacy, not just today but every day,” said Taveras prior to the start of the morning’s program. “Also, educating our kids and preparing them for the future is one of the most important things we can do.”
In his remarks, Taveras also expressed the importance of how people are interdependent, and that one should always ask themselves a question posed by Dr. King: What are we doing to better the lives of others?
“To honor Dr. King’s legacy, we need to ask ourselves that every day,” said Taveras.
Taveras also had some fun, joking that he was visiting the “second greatest city in Rhode Island,” and singing the praises of Providence, however he took a moment to address how the words of Dr. King’s famous “I Have A Dream” speech reflect his life.
“We are part of Dr. King’s legacy. The fact that cities and towns in Rhode Island have mayors that look like Mayor Fung and I is really a testament to Dr. King’s dream,” said Taveras.
The keynote speaker of the event was Michael L. Vaughan, the senior assistant dean of Academic Affairs for the College of Engineering at the University of Delaware and a native to Providence. After a touching introduction from his proud father, Rev. Dr. Sammy C. Vaughan, president of the Ministers Alliance, Michael said he hoped to speak to the students with words of encouragement about dreams, mentorship and the path to purpose. His 30-minute, rousing address included readings of Langston Hughes’ famous poem “Harlem,” seen often as a description of what can happen if dreams are left unfulfilled; the first portion of Dr. King’s “I Have A Dream Speech,” which detailed the way of life at that time, and a poem Michael wrote when he was 15, living in South Providence, entitled “Coming Up Black.”
Michael urged scholarship recipients never to give up on their dreams, even if they face hardships.
“In my opinion, the gap between dreams and success is a knowledge and confidence issue. Far too many young people in our country are caught in a knowledge and confidence wasteland,” said Michael.
To fill that gap, Michael encouraged the students to find mentors that can help them on the path to reach their goals. He spoke repeatedly about the importance of finding mentors and guides to help them through their lives.
“All dreams start in the mind of dreamers, but the passion of the spirit gives life to dreams. Students, this is the passion that will propel you further,” said Michael. “Now go forth freely and be excellent.”
The event also featured a number of prayers, readings including a rendition of Dr. King’s “Love Thy Enemy” sermon, and a special musical interlude by Pamela Williams and the Praise Team from St. James Baptist Church in Woonsocket where Rev. Dr. Sammy Vaughan is pastor.