By William Roller
Evoking Aristotle’s wisdom, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts; the Stone of Hope awards on Jan. 13 honored the spirit of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., recognizing Imperial Valley residents who uphold his civil rights credo.
As the nation prepared to celebrate MLK Jr. Day, 200 gathered at Club Lohoo in Heber to pay tribute to community members working to make a difference.
The award takes its name from King’s “I have a Dream Speech” at the Lincoln Memorial in 1963: “With faith we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope,” explained Marlene Thomas, Imperial Valley Stone of Hope coordinator.
She noted that MLK Jr. Day is not a black holiday, but an American holiday.
“We’re celebrating the whole country,” stressed Thomas. “I don’t care what part of the country you come from; there is not one American who has not benefited from Dr. King’s sacrifice. But America has a ways to go for respecting one another.”
Eight Valley residents were honored with Stone of Hope statuettes and medallions. They include Yvonne Bell, executive director of Clinicas de Salud del Pueblo; Don Brock of Brock Brand Asparagus; Ethel Grace, who worked with the Economic Opportunity Commission; Susan Massey, former English as a second language teacher at Holtville High School; Joe Montenegro, former Sempra Gas employee; Dolores Solis, founder of TREES, an organization empowering youth of tomorrow; Jessica Solorio, founder of Spread the Love charity; and Randy Taylor, retail marketing manager at Rabobank.
Massey recalled while still teaching she made it a point to include lesson plans explaining the contributions of King to civil rights because she truly believed in its principles. She noted King showed the nation in a nonviolent way how much unity can be achieved through civil rights.
“Dr. King’s birthday is a national holiday and we celebrate his accomplishments because he did things through love,” said Massey. “He showed us that love is stronger than hate.”
The keynote speaker was the Rev. Sandra Jewell, who has worked in various denominations to help expand current ministry and hosts a television talk show, Pastor J Live. Jewell noted all are a unique creation of God’s universe whether accepted by others or not.
“We’re all standing on somebody else’s shoulders.We can’t make it by ourselves,” said Jewell. “Everybody has a talent to contribute. Sit down and let the universe tell you what it is.But don’t sit down and hold grudges. If we become diverse in our thinking, then we are diverse in our attitude and diverse in our behavior. When we give of ourselves, we get so much more in return.”
Offering special recognition to Stone of Hope recipients was Raymond Castillo, chairman of the Imperial County Board of Supervisors. Castillo praised Dr. King for blazing a trail that changed the quality of life for so many Americans. As an example of discrimination previously faced, Castillo recalled that when he began his career in law enforcement officers had to meet minimum-height standards. Yet, through Affirmative Action, law enforcement careers were opened to many more minorities and women.
“It’s so comforting to now see diversity in law enforcement and civil service,” said Castillo. “We need to keep moving forward and not be distracted by the negativity coming out of some of our media. We are still a great melting pot.”