By Cassandra Harris-Lockwood
Dr. Shanelle Benson Reid, president and CEO of ACCESS Global, was the keynote speaker for the Mohawk Valley Frontiers International 33rd Annual Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Luncheon, Monday, January 16 at the Radisson Hotel in downtown Utica.
Luminaries from the Black community as well as politicians and law enforcement from top branches of the city, county, state and federal government, joined people from all walks of life to celebrate the birthday of our country’s ‘standard bearer of peace,’ the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King. This well run annual luncheon is recognized throughout the state as a significant function and as such was visited this year by the State Comptroller, Tom DiNapoli.
In this the 49th year since King’s assassination, the people came to hear, remember and teach their children the importance of his leadership in the non-violent struggle against the crushing oppression and exclusion that Black Americans suffered in life, liberty, education, and employment.
The focus of the event was on education and how a good one makes the difference between success and doom to a life of poverty.
Benson Reid exposed her own history and her heart to the sold out crowd to emphasize the difference that education made to her life. Explaining that her ease in learning had been recognized by a teacher at an early age, she was chosen to attend a charter school, a tag that stayed with her throughout her primary and secondary education. This resulted in her ultimately earning an AA, BA, a Master’s in Education and ultimately a Ph. D.
She highlights her academic success against the backdrop of being the eldest of 39 cousins, the child of a 15-year-old mother and the only cousin to have completed an advanced degree. Benson Reid shared that only one other cousin completed college. Several never made it through high school and some never finished grade school.
Presently, Dr. Benson Reid specializes in optimizing the education of Black boys. She participates in the MoVa Frontiers ongoing Syracuse program to overcome educational challenges for inner city youth of color and prepare them for success beyond high school. There were numerous representatives from Syracuse and 100 Black Men at the luncheon.
The emphasis of the day was on education as the Frontiers recognized four youth of color for outstanding academic achievement. Glengalis Perez, Samantha Tarvarez, Tekitha Posey-Barry and Ahmat Admjouma.
Mohawk Valley Frontiers International President, Magistrate Jawwaad Rasheed poses with Congresswoman Claudia Tenney at the 33rd annual MLK Luncheon all received recognition and congressional citations from Congresswoman Claudia Tenney who was in attendance.
In her remarks, Tenney reflected on her days as an undergrad at Colgate and her deep admiration of Martin Luther King and his predecessor Mahatma Gandhi. She spoke of a favorite paper she wrote while a student and the importance of King’s contribution to the world.
Two MLK Community Service Awards were given, one to Sam Rowser, Director of On Point for College and Anthony DeJean, E.D, of Loaves and Fishes in Rome. The Lifetime Friend Award was given to Mrs. Juanita Sims, a retired Black professional, loving mother, wife, and member of our community.
But the day was not all about education and awards. Where there are Black folks in celebration, there is music. Soloist James McNeil led the singing of the National Anthem as well as, Lift Every Voice and Sing. Later his rendition of Glory, from the movie Glory was a moving tribute to the power of perseverance and hope.
James McNeil sings “Glory” from the movie “Glory” to the crowd gathered for the 33rd annual MLK Luncheon.The luncheon was not only a tribute to MLK but a gathering of those who shared his vision, walked in his footsteps and continue to share his message of equality, economic empowerment, and social responsibility.