TAMPA — Cassius Butts issued a call to action Sunday afternoon inside a ballroom at the Quorum Hotel.
“We think, 'What can we do to honor Dr. King,'” Butts, U.S. Small Business Administration Region IV Administrator, asked of a room of about 200 people. “How can we keep his dream alive? You can do that by offering your time, your talent, your inspiration to someone who's in need.”
The discussion was part of the America's Sunday Supper, to honor the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and inspire people to volunteer during Monday's MLK Day of Service.
The event was hosted by United Way HandsOn Suncoast, which was one of just 5 programs nationally given a grant to help in its MLK Day efforts.
“This function today and this weekend has been a true element of showing the power behind the people,” Phillip C. Harris, Director, of Volunteer Services and Public Policy for United Way Suncoast, said. “As citizens, as constituents throughout our respective communities, this gives us the opportunity to show there is power in numbers. The power in numbers include how volunteerism and how volunteer services can make a significant impact in our various neighborhoods.”
Nationwide, the HandsOn Network anticipated more than 185,000 volunteers would take action serving their neighborhoods during the weekend leading up to Monday's MLK Day of Service. Those volunteers are expected to reach at least 500,000 people.
As the America's Sunday Supper title suggests, food was served, but with a caveat: Each cloth-covered table included a small placard with a question that had to be discussed amongst attendees during the supper portion.
One read, in part, “What is your local community doing to reach out to the less fortunate in your community.” Another asked if Dr. King made a positive contribution to the American society as a whole.
“It's an opportunity for us to come together as a community,” Diana Baker, President and CEO of United Way Suncoast said. “I think that's important for us to continue to do — remember a life well-lived and a legacy of leadership that's important to who we are in our community today.
“It's also an opportunity to encourage people that though we've made progress, we still have a lot of work to do. There are still people out there who need us. If we work together, we continue on the path that we've been on, there's good and better things to come.”
An 18-person Tampa Spanish Pathfinders drum line kicked off the ceremony, which also included the reading of a poem by East Bay High School senior Juan Soriano, and the presentation of the HandsOn Mountain Top Award to Dr. Marvin T. Williams of the University of South Florida. The event was emceed by ABC Action News reporter Laura Harris.
Near the end of Butt's remarks, he quoted President Barack Obama's speech during the dedication of the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. National Memorial in October 2011 in Washington, D.C.
“Our president said: 'That is why Dr. King was so quintessentially American because for all the hardships we've endured, for all our sometimes tragic history, ours is a story of optimism and achievement and constant striving that is unique upon this Earth,'” Butts said. “'And that is why the rest of the world still looks to us to lead. This is a country where ordinary people find in their hearts the courage to do extraordinary things.
“'The courage to stand up in the face of the fiercest resistance and despair and say this is wrong, and this is right. We will not settle for what the cynics tell us we have to accept and we will reach again and again, no matter the odds, for what we know is possible.'”