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Those who walk in spirit of Martin Luther King Jr. honored at annual ceremony

The delayed celebration of the life of Martin Luther King Jr. Monday at Kleinhans Music Hall brought the slain civil rights leader's spirit to the fore – even though his name was not invoked more than a dozen times, over the course of a two-hour presentation.

The celebration featured several musical and dance performances from the likes of Bessie Patterson and the City-Wide Choir, Studio J and the Hutchinson Central Technical High School Gospel Choir, but it was a night to honor some in the Buffalo community who have dedicated themselves to acting in the spirit in which King lived.

"We don't need to only celebrate the legacy, the life and the vision of Dr. King solely on his birthday. We can gather to honor people who are carrying the issues that he championed," said Erie County Legislature Majority Leader April Baskin, a sponsor of the event.

The annual celebration, the theme of which was "Follow in His Footsteps, Live the Dream, Unity Wins," was originally scheduled to be held on Jan. 20 – until a snowstorm required that it be postponed.

Despite the rescheduling, about 350 attended Monday's event, which included a ceremony to honor eight citizens for their community service, though not all could attend the rescheduled event.

Concerned Citizens Following the Dream Committee, which puts on the annual King celebration, awarded its Community Service Award to Agnes M. Bain, longtime arts administrator and executive director of the African American Cultural Center, and Eugenio Russi, regional vice president of Acacia Network and executive director of Hispanics United of Buffalo.

Retired Buffalo Public Schools principal Letizia Conrad received the Educators Award.

Lillion Batchelor, founder of Buffalo Quarters Historical Society, was honored with the Woman of Distinction Award. Jim Dentinger, co-founder of McGuire Development, received the Business Award.

Kelly Galloway, founder of Ramp Global Missions and Mona's House, who began a passion for helping people at 6 years old and even converted a room in her childhood home into a tutoring center for neighborhood children who were having difficulty in school, received the Foreign Mission Award.

The Rev. James A. Lewis, founder and pastor of Miracle Missions Full Gospel Church, as well as chief chaplain for the Buffalo Police Department and director of the Pastoral Care Department at Erie County Medical Center, received the Humanitarian Award.

The Judicial Award was given to Buffalo City Court Judge James A.W. McLeod, who began his legal career by becoming the second African-American attorney in Buffalo history to be hired as an associate attorney with a major law firm. McLeod is great-nephew of another famous civil rights activist, educator and national adviser to President Franklin D. Roosevelt, Mary McLeod Bethune.

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