It was a bitterly cold Monday morning when I made my way to the annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr./Albert Owens Scholarship Breakfast at Meriden’s Maloney High School.
It was so cold I took a picture of my car thermometer that registered 0 degrees.
Thankfully, once inside the school cafeteria, it was warm and inviting and decorated with table pictures of Dr. King. Despite the cold and icy conditions, a large crowd gathered to enjoy what has become one of the best occasions to remember and honor Dr. King on this national holiday.
I must say, this breakfast is one of my favorite events of the year. The speakers always deliver inspirational words of hope about Dr. King’s values and a vision for a better, more just society.
The distinguished head table included Connecticut’s U.S. Sens. Chris Murphy and Richard Blumenthal, Mayor Kevin Scarpati, School Superintendent Dr. Mark Benigni, the entire Meriden state delegation and, of course, the honorable and august chairman, Rhudean Raye.
Rhudean Raye is the tireless organizer who proudly proclaimed she was 92 years old and still going strong as she opened the 34th annual breakfast.
The success of this event is all due to the vision and commitment of Raye, who has lived a life of service as both a teacher and nurse. She epitomizes a life of giving to others as Dr. King has preached: “Take action, help your fellow man.”
When I asked for her feelings about this year’s event, she said, “I thought the breakfast was great, and despite the bad weather we had a good turnout because of their commitment and determination. I also heard many positive comments from those who came.” Let me also add: “Great job Rhudean, well done!”
Keith Kountz, anchorman for Channel 8 News, was the keynote speaker. He is a well-known figure in Connecticut and has won numerous coveted awards for broadcasting and the support of many charitable organizations. Keith noted the large crowd that had gathered and spoke about the impact Dr. King had on his life. He observed, rightly, the many strides our county has taken for civil rights and the important value of fighting for justice and peace.
He spoke about his mother who instilled in him the value of hard work and striving to his full capacity. He reminisced about a time when he had slacked off in his junior year of college (too much partying and not enough study).
When he told his mother that he would have to take extra courses and graduate a year later she said, “You will graduate with your classmates.”
Keith quickly enrolled in summer school classes to complete his missing courses. But something positive and unexpected happened there. He met Dawn, a fellow student, who would be his wife (although Keith noted that his wife always reminds him that she was taking classes to graduate early while he was there just to graduate on time).
Keith learned the lesson that sometimes a negative experience can turn into something positive.
As always, the musical entertainment was a highlight of the morning. Again this year, brother and sister Miguel and Celine Cardona led off the singers with the song “Shallow” from the movie A Star is Born.
Their father, Dr. Miguel Cardona, assistant superintendent of schools, penned their introduction:
“Our fight for justice often requires that we leave our lives of comfort and safety and enter risk and judgment. This song was chosen because it best represents the jump Dr. King made to leave safe, shallow waters and jump into the deep end of activism for social justice and equality in the 1960s.”
Following Miguel and Celine, the Maloney Allegrettos performed two exhilarating songs, then the Gospel Choir from Mount Hebron Baptist Church had the crowd swaying and clapping to their gospel music and, finally, a praise dance by a member of the New Gethsemane Church brought the entertainment to an end. The audience gave a rousing ovation for all the performers.
This was the 34th year of this scholarship breakfast. During this period 116 scholarships have been given to deserving college-bound students thanks to the breakfast supporters. The corporate and community sponsors have generously donated $63,000 to underwrite the cost of the breakfast and numerous organizations and individuals have bought ads for the ad book and made other donations.
All these efforts have made the annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr./Albert Owens Scholarship Breakfast one of Meriden’s most successful and longest-running scholarship programs.
Our community is in their debt.
Michael S. Rohde is a former mayor and city councilor of Meriden.