OKEECHOBEE — The annual Martin Luther King Jr. Banquet was held in the Douglas Brown Center on Saturday night, Jan. 18. All donations received will benefit the Pearl Andrews Débutante and Escorts Scholarships.
The banquet featured some hometown favorite foods like collard greens and black eyed peas, and the crowd was well pleased. Other than the chicken, which was purchased at Golden Corral by George Roberson, the meal was cooked by community members who donated their time and efforts. Those involved include: Richardean Singleton, Shirley Akeins, Mary Thomas, Georgiann Givens, Shirlean Graham-Stevens, Joan Thomas, Bertha Boswell and Bessie Boswell. Everything about the banquet is a community effort said Ms. Graham-Stevens. It’s not just me doing it all. If we don’t work together, it can’t get done. Ms. Graham-Stevens, Henrietta Ridley, Danny Delagall and Amanda McNeil did the decorating, and Sylvester Wittaker donated the sound, she said.
Tammy and Jermaine Wright served as masters of ceremony for the event, and they managed to not only keep things moving smoothly but also to keep the crowd in stitches every time they appeared on stage. Their daughter Maliah did a wonderful job leading everyone in the song, “Lift Every Voice.”
One of the highlights of the evening was 12-year-old Channing Delagall’s recitation of “To Fight or Not to Fight” a monologue by Sunday Owens told from the perspective of Dr. King. He spoke with such feeling you would have thought he wrote the speech himself and meant every word. Every eye in the room was focused on him throughout and you could have heard a pin drop.
Another speaker was no stranger to the Douglas Brown stage. “The Rhyming and Rapping Granny,” Tammy Files, makes an appearance every chance she gets, and considering she claimed she is 107 years old, she has probably had more than her fair share of chances. She shared some history and then did some rhyming and rapping, much to the delight of the gathering.
Of course, no event involving Shirlean Graham-Stevens would be complete without an appearance by the Chobee Steelers, and they did not disappoint. After they played, Ms. Wright announced she was starting a petition to begin a senior division of the Chobee Steelers, “40 and up,” she said. “I’d like to pick which one I’m going to play.” Her husband said he would not be eligible because he is only 25, and plans to remain that way forever.
The key note speaker of the night was Pastor Vernon Reason, who said he cut his teeth in Okeechobee. “Y’all endured me when I had Daniel in the Sycamore tree and Zaccheus in the lion’s den, and you still said, ‘Preach it!’ I’ll be eternally grateful to you all,” he said. He went on to praise the food. He said, “There may be people who cook more food more better, but they don’t do it in Okeechobee. I’ll go even farther and say there may people who cook more food more better but not in Florida, because Okeechobee can throw down.”
One of the first points he made was that when people describe someone and use color, it is not an insult, it is a description. “We’ve got to stop thinking prejudicially,” he said, “about our pigmentation. We just happen to be white or happen to be black.” He went on to talk about preparedness, posterity and position. The way to become prepared is to seek knowledge, to allow ourselves to be taught, he explained. “We need posterity because you need to know who you are and whose you are,” he said. Position means something too, he said. “God made man a little lower than himself, and if God made man a little lower than himself, you have every right to have your nose in the air. Having your nose in the air doesn’t mean you’re stuck up. It means you’ve got self-esteem.”
After Pastor Reason finished speaking, the 2020 débutantes and their escorts were introduced by the Ladies of Elegance followed by presentation of Martin Luther King Jr. Civic Awards. There are still openings for débutantes and escorts for students in 10th through 12th grades and whose GPA is at least 2.5. They must be of good character and willing to put in some hard work. Call Mrs. Graham-Stevens at 863-697-6107.
Another exciting moment for the crowd was when Coach Demetre Riles announced his intention to run for county commissioner in district three. “There has been a social and economic imbalance going on here since I was born,” he said. “This area, district three, has been neglected probably since it was formed, and at some point, it has to change.” When he came home six years ago, this was one of the things on his to do list, he said.
The evening ended with everyone lighting candles and singing a last song together before closing in prayer.