BRANDON – In commemoration of this year’s 50th anniversary of the historic March on Washington, the Tampa/Hillsborough County Human Rights Council has selected “Marching Forward: Advancing the Dream” as the theme for its 40th Annual Human Rights Awards Breakfast.
Brandon High School graduate and Lithia resident Mark Nash, president of the council, is working with Norma Reno and Stacie Blake Collins to stage the Dec. 13 breakfast, which includes the presentation of nine awards, including one to a group of local residents who participated in the March on Washington on Aug. 28, 1963.
“They will be recognized for the courage and resolve it took in 1963, to take whatever means of transportation was available, be it train, bus or automobile, to join the March on Washington for jobs and freedom,” Nash said. “That was the famous march, led by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., where hundreds of thousands of Americans, black, white and from every socioeconomic class, came to draw the line to stop bigotry and to create a better America that includes everybody.”
At the march, King delivered his historic “I Have a Dream” speech, in which he said the gathering would “go down in history as the greatest demonstration for freedom in the history of our nation.”
The breakfast is set to start 7:30 a.m. at the Doubletree Westshore Hotel, at 4500 West Cypress St. in Tampa. Scheduled to speak is Richard Cohen, under whose guidance the Southern Poverty Law Center won a series of landmark lawsuits against some of the nation’s most violent white supremacist organizations. With the center’s Teaching Tolerance documentary project, Cohen has received two Academy Awards — for “A Time for Justice” in 1994 and for “Mighty Times: The Children’s March” in 2005.
The 2005 documentary chronicles how children fought Jim Crow in 1963, “when hundreds of Birmingham school children stood up, left their classrooms and marched to city hall to tell their mayor that segregation was wrong,” Cohen is quoted as saying. “When the children of Birmingham stood up, America took notice.”
It’s a taste of those times, and that notice, that Nash, as president of the Tampa/Hillsborough County Human Rights Council, and its other 19 members, is hoping to leave with this year’s breakfast attendees, on hand to celebrate the group at its 40-year juncture.
“We wanted to do something big and the Southern Poverty Law Center, its work in particular, has almost singlehandedly litigated white supremacy off the American landscape,” Nash said.
“They have litigated in civil suits and have pretty much decimated the Ku Klux Klan and they are continuing to advance civil rights, fighting for immigration rights, women’s rights, voting rights and rights for other minority groups, including the LGBT community.”
Nash noted that the signature focus of the Tampa/Hillsborough County Human Rights Council is to present each year an annual awards breakfast as “an opportunity to help explain, to help teach to young people and adults, the significance of past events and to honor those who have had the courage to step up and advance the cause of human and civil rights.”
It is important “that the stories be told, that the history is learned,” Nash added. “We’re 40 years old and I don’t see anything slowing us down any time soon.”
Over time, the human rights awards have expanded beyond the borders of Hillsborough County, Nash said. To wit, the Youth Leadership Award will be presented to college student and Pinellas County resident Negar Sabet, of Iranian descent, who “helps other Iranian immigrants acclimate to America and especially to our community of Tampa Bay,” Nash said.
In the human rights category, the following groups and individuals will be recognized:
* The First Tee of Tampa Bay, “a golfing organization that teaches young urban kids, black and white, the value of the game of golf and its ability to teach young people how to get along, how to cooperate and how to learn a sport that requires concentration, strategy and skill,” Nash said.
* PACE Center for Girls (Hillsborough), a group that “helps young women in our community work through the issues they’re having with family, with law enforcement and with the challenges of being a young person,” Nash said.
Men of Vision, a young mens organization run by Ross Anderson, “whose vision is to reach out to young men in the middle- and high-school environment and teach them about manners, the value of their education and of respecting each other and adults,” Nash said.
* Pat Mulder and her husband, Lynn, who founded the Ryan Keith Skipper Foundation in memory of their son, “who was tragically murdered in Polk County in 2007, killed because of his sexual orientation,” Nash said. “Pat and Lynn Mulder chose the high road in dealing with their life challenges after the death of their son and they started a foundation to help people learn about the diversity in their community and to honor their son. They could have gone to a very dark place in their lives after the death of their son but they chose to tell their son’s story and to teach tolerance and, in doing that, to ask the community to accept diversity.”
The top vote-getter among the 20 council members in the human rights category each year receives the Eddie Mitchell Memorial Award. “During the troubles and strife of the late ‘60s and early ‘70s, in our community several regular people stepped up to be a part of the calming influence to help keep the peace and Eddie Mitchell was one of these people,” Nash said. So, too, was Hank Warren, an employee with the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office, in whose memory a like award is given to a recipient in public service.
This year’s recipient of the Eddie Mitchell Memorial Award is Robert Brinkmann, a former instructor at the University of South Florida, who started an organization that supplies money and financing to individuals and organizations falling on hard times. “He did it anonymously,” Nash added. “He brought together people who have above average financial means and they brought their resources together to help people in need in our community.”
Tampa City Councilwoman Yvonne Yolie Capin is to receive the Hank Warren Memorial Award. “She was the inspiration behind the City of Tampa’s domestic partnership ordinance,” Nash said. “She brought the policy before the city council.”
This year, the Human Rights Hall of Fame grows by two inductees, including the group induction of local residents who were at the March on Washington in 1968. The second inductee is child advocate Jack Levine, who for 25 years served as president of Voices for Florida’s Children and is the founder of the 4Generations Institute, which aims to “cultivate the exchange of wisdom and energy among our generations” and to “promote community volunteerism for mutual benefit.”
For tickets to the Dec. 13 breakfast, call Norma Reno at 813-785-4818. Tickets cost $30 and a table of $10 costs $275. Purchase tickets online, up until noon, Dec. 12 at www.thhrc.org.