Jeff Johnson challenged the young people Saturday at the MLK Scholarship Breakfast at the Pinnacle to chase their own dreams in their own way, to show leadership on their own terms.
He challenged everyone in the crowd to honor the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.,'s legacy, not simply the “I Have a Dream” speech he delivered in 1963, five years before his assassination.
Scholarship recipient Keion Devalt II, left, receives his plaque from Nathaniel Young, left, and chapter president Rev. Brandon Tucker, right, during the annual scholarship breakfast hosted by the local UT chapter of Alpha Phi Alpha at The Pinnacle.
“As the revolutionary and insightful and prophetic leader that he was, do you think that in 2018 he would still be dreaming the same dream that he did at the March on Washington?” Mr. Johnson asked. “No. He would want to know what your dream is, what your vision is.”
The Black Entertainment Television personality and managing principal of Baltimore-based JIJ Communications challenged the adults in the crowd to see beyond the hair and the attitude and the sagging pants of today's young people and instead see their promise, recognize the talents they may not recognize in themselves, and nurture those talents — even in the young people they may fear.
Mr. Johnson, a Cleveland native and University of Toledo graduate, gave a shout-out to Theresa Gabriel, a former Toledo City Councilman and retired city official who enticed him to be the keynote speaker at an NAACP luncheon in 1996. He had been president of UT's Black Student Union and was not a fan of the NAACP.
“She said, ‘I want somebody with new ideas,’ and she believed in me enough to put me in front of those she served in leadership with in the NAACP,” he said.
“It is the single most important relationship I ever had in Toledo,” Mr. Johnson said, directing his comments to a teary-eyed Mrs. Gabriel. “You saw talent in me when other people saw just a mad black kid. You invested in me not for your own benefit, but for mine... I thank you daily.”
Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity — the first intercollegiate Greek fraternity for African-American men — invested in seven young men Saturday.
Jeff Johnson, a UT grad and BET personality, gives the keynote address during the annual scholarship breakfast hosted by the local UT chapter of Alpha Phi Alpha at The Pinnacle on Saturday.
The fraternity's Alpha Xi Lambda chapter awarded scholarships to seven college-bound high school seniors: Keion Devalt II and Jaime Wyatt from Start High School; Alexander Foulks, Alexander Gayle, and Keith Nelson, Jr., of St. John's Jesuit High School; Jason Johnson, Jr., of Sylvania Southview High School; and Kibwe Rayford from Toledo Early College High School.
Michael Stubblefield, director of academic affairs for the chapter, said the group is always looking for qualified applicants, who among other things are asked to submit an essay reflecting on the ideals and philosophies of Reverend King and how they've attempted to emulate those qualities in their lives.
Officials said the chapter has awarded $175,000 in scholarships to more than 100 boys in the last 26 years.
Mr. Devalt, 18, said he's been coming to the MLK Scholarship Breakfast since he was a freshman and came with UT's Upward Bound program.
“It was a great experience. There's a lot of warmth and family here,” he said.
Although he hasn't finalized his choice for college, he plans to major in international business and said he hopes to run his own company one day.
Also Saturday, the fraternity presented its annual Drum Major for Justice Award to the Rev. Timothy V. Pettaway, Sr., pastor and founder of Walk the Word Ministry in Toledo.
Soloist Darnell Ishmel gave the crowd a preview of Douglas Tappin's “I Dream,” a rhythm and blues opera set to premiere at the Valentine Theatre April 6. The opera examines the last 36 hours of Reverend King’s life.
James Meena, principal artistic advisor for the Toledo Opera, encouraged the audience not to be put off by the word opera, but to come see “I Dream” to experience its message of unity.
“We can have community dialogues all the time,” he said, “But when we gather together as a community to share an experience that is uplifting and particularly a piece like ‘I Dream,’ which is about the people not so long ago in our nation's history who showed the courage and the leadership to change the country, it provides an opportunity for all of us to celebrate what we call not just black history but American history.”
Guidelines: Please keep your comments smart and civil. Don't attack other readers personally, and keep your language decent. Comments that violate these standards, or our privacy statement or visitor's agreement, are subject to being removed and commenters are subject to being banned. To post comments, you must be a registered user on toledoblade.com. To find out more, please visit the FAQ.