Though accepting an award on behalf of her late father Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. who was assassinated in April 1968, Dr. Bernice King said her deceased mother, Coretta Scott King, deserves to share in the recognition for keeping her husband’s legacy alive and relevant.
The human rights activist and one of the world’s most influential women leaders died in January 2006.
“My dad was one of the most hated men in the United States when he was assassinated and now he’s one of the most loved men in the world,” Dr. King said at the 10th annual Planet Africa awards. “I have to remind people over and over again that there is a reason for that because of a woman who did not allow grief to overwhelm her life, but instead decided it was her mission and purpose in life to institutionalize his legacy.”
Shortly after his death 45 years ago, his wife established the Martin Luther King Jr. Centre for Non-Violent Social Change that has become a global destination, resource centre and community institution.
“In addition to doing that, she also ensured that there would be a national holiday in recognition of his birthday that is celebrated in close to 100 countries around the world,” said King who is the centre’s chief executive officer. “She carried that work every day. If she did not, we would not be celebrating him at the level we are doing it. As I accept this honour, I do so on her behalf.
“She was the woman that embodied the very essence of what that movement represented. She was the one who emulated the importance of forgiveness because if you harbour hate and bitterness, it only leads down a path ultimately of death and destruction.
“I thank God for her incredible example. She reminded us that struggle is a never-ending process and that freedom is never really won. You earn it and you win it in every generation.
So, as we celebrate, remember and reflect upon the 50th anniversary of my father’s ‘I have A Dream’ speech, we also remember that we still have to fight for freedom and justice going forward. There is no such thing as ‘we have arrived’. There is still much work to do and there is still land to be conquered.”
The youngest child of Dr. King and the only one to become a minister of religion decried a recent decision by the highest court in the Dominican Republic to cancel the citizenship of three generations of residents. Citing the country’s 2010 constitution, the country’s constitutional court retroactively stripped the citizenship of people born after 1929 to parents without Dominican ancestry, declaring that they were residing in the country illegally or with temporary permits.
Almost 200,000 people, most of them descendants of Haitians, may in effect be left stateless because of the ruling.
“To me, that is one of the ultimate acts of man’s inhumanity to man and we must let our voices be heard because these individuals, most of whom are our Haitian brothers and sisters, will have nowhere to go,” said King who, at age 17, was invited to speak at the United Nations in her mother’s absence.
“They will be homeless. It’s one thing to be homeless in your own country, but another to be homeless in the world. So we do have a tremendous amount of work still upon us to do. We have an obligation to take care of each other.
“My father and those who struggled in the movement taught us it’s not about us. They taught us that we are born into this life to ensure that we leave an incredible legacy for those behind us and that sometimes you may not be able to see and experience the results of the seeds that you have sown.”
This year’s award recipients ranged from a former Metro councillor who was recognized with a Lifetime Achievement Award to a high school student who embodies leadership, innovation and achievement.
Named among this year’s “Top 20 Under 20” Canadians, 17-year-old Habiba Cooper-Diallo launched Women’s Health Organization International at her “sweet 16” birthday party. The organization was inspired by the teenager’s passionate interest in obstetric fistula which is a severe medical condition in which a hole develops between either the rectum and vagina or the bladder and vagina after severe or failed childbirth in instances where adequate medical care is unavailable.
Last summer, Cooper-Diallo spent a month in Sierra Leone and Guinea visiting hospitals and medical centres that treat women with fistula and offer post-operative services. She made a commitment to support the work of Engender Health, an organization that aims to improve the quality of sexual and reproductive health care for women. A key component of their work is the prevention and treatment of fistula.
Cooper-Diallo plans to pursue post-secondary studies in anthropology in England.
“I want to travel and get a sense of Africanness there and generally broaden my horizon,” she said.
Bev Salmon, a Metro councillor from 1988-1997, co-founded the Urban Alliance on Race Relations and was the Ontario Human Rights Commission’s first Black female commissioner.
Trained as a nurse who practiced in Detroit and Toronto for several years, she was married to the late Dr. Douglas Salmon, Canada’s first Black surgeon and the first Black president of a hospital medical staff.
Other award winners were Canada Basketball assistant general manager Rowan Barrett, City of Toronto chief information officer Rob Meikle, baseball Hall-of-Famer Ferguson Jenkins, designer and musician Sean Mauricette a.k.a Subliminal, Ethiopian Airlines chief executive officer Tewolde Gebremariam, multiple award-winning artist Dele Ajayi, Jodal Health Care chief executive officer Ayo Alabi, G98.7 founder Fitzroy Gordon, African Union Diaspora Health Initiative chair Dr. Arikana Chihombori, forensic scientist Dr. Adekunle Ahmed and businessman Joel Dikgole.
The Jamaican Canadian Association, African Guitar Summit and Doctors Without Borders were the group award winners.