Community leaders, public officials, family and friends gathered to pay tribute to the legacy of two men known for their dignity and respect, and who used their work and life’s passions to make a change locally as well as nationally–Rev. Dr. Leroy Patrick, an activist and Presbyterian minister, and Pulitzer Prize winning American playwright August Wilson–at the 25th annual Spirit of King Awards Ceremony held Jan. 16 at the Kingsley Association in East Liberty.
The ceremony, presented by Port Authority of Allegheny County, the Kingsley Association, the Pittsburgh Pirates and the New Pittsburgh Courier, posthumously recognizes individuals who, like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., have dedicated their life’s work to, and made strides in, the fight for equality.
Ellen McLean, interim CEO of Port Authority, said, “It’s always a joy to be a part of this event (the Spirit of King) every year and highlight some of the tremendous achievements of some of the individuals who meant so much to our community.”
The late-morning program featured words by Pittsburgh NAACP President Connie Parker and Kingsley Association President Malik Bankston, as well as an invocation by Rev. Brian Edmonds of Macedonia Baptist Church and several presentations to the honorees by County Executive Rich Fitzgerald, Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto, Melvin Hubbard El on behalf of Pa. State Representative Ed Gainey and County Councilman William Robinson, along with reflections by Sala Udin, a friend of both honorees.
Udin spoke of both men individually. He said Rev. Patrick “was the personification of dignity” as well as a man of intellect. He spoke of the well-known scene of Rev. Patrick jumping into a city pool during a protest of the segregation of Pittsburgh city swimming pools. “He couldn’t swim a lick, but he jumped right in. He had heart, he had courage,” Udin said.
In regards to Wilson, his childhood friend from “his lower Hill (District) days,” Udin said, “Pittsburgh, as you know has a rather disproportionate abundance of world class cultural artists. But none of them had the impact on their fields that August Wilson had on the field of theater in America. Some say that August was one of the best or among one of the best American playwrights. But personally, I think August was the best playwright America has produced.”
Along with his reflections, Udin also made a plea to save the August Wilson Center for African American Culture, which was foreclosed on last year by Dollar Bank. Udin, who was a former interim CEO of the center, acknowledged that mistakes were made and called on Dollar Bank and the Pittsburgh Foundations to give them a chance to make things right. The plea, which was well received by some, and found to be untimely and inappropriate by others, was echoed by Robinson and County Councilwoman Amanda Green-Hawkins.
After two wonderful selections, one including “We Are The World,” by students from the Pittsburgh School for the Creative and Performing Arts and an arousing monologue presentation of August Wilson’s “Piano Lessons” by Point Park University students Trevor Butler and Meleana Felton, each family was presented with a special memento and spoke briefly about their loved one.
The sons of Rev. Patrick, Dr. Gregory Patrick and Stephan Patrick, along with Gregory Patrick’s wife, Judith, accepted the honor on his behalf. Each shared personal stories and thoughts of their father.
Gregory Patrick said when reflecting on the common points shared between his father and King, he found that love was the word that kept coming to mind. “The spirit of King, like the spirit of LeRoy Patrick comes down to love. A love of God, a love of justice and love of family.”
August Wilson’s honor was accepted by his nephew, Paul Ellis Jr., Esq, who spoke of his uncle’s courage and his sense of leadership, along with his work to preserve his uncle’s legacy in the Hill District by restoring Wilson’s childhood home and giving back to youth interested in the arts. Ellis described his uncle as being “a head of his time.”
Following the presentations, there was video tribute to the honorees and a benediction by Rev. Vincent Campbell of Ebenezer Baptist Church.
Peduto said, “Today’s celebration is really a way to look and understand Dr. King’s vision and Dr. King’s life. It wasn’t done by one man, but by a great team; people he never met in his life, but were rowing in the same direction. They (Rev. Patrick and Wilson) were leaders here and on the world stage.”
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