On Wednesday, guests packed into the Sheraton New York Times Square Hotel to honor a few chosen change agents, and a local hero, for their commitment to their respective fields and community. The awards, outfitted with a photo of Martin Luther King, Jr., were handed out at the annual, Keepers of the Dream Dinner, put on by the Reverend Al Sharpton’s National Action Network, and co-sponsored by ESSENCE. Among the honorees were Mary J. Blige, Tom Joyner, and Waffle House hero, James Shaw Jr.
“You may have killed the dreamer but you have not killed the dream,” Sharpton said to mark the event that was held on the eve of the 51st anniversary of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination in Memphis, TN.
While Anthony Anderson acted as the master of ceremonies, Sharpton invited Martin Luther King III on stage to help award and congratulate the honorees. One of which was James Shaw Jr. who, last April, disarmed a gunman attempting to shoot up a Tennessee Waffle House. At the time of the incident, Shaw said he was no hero, but instead, just a regular person who was “acting selfishly” to save his own life. A year later his sentiments remain.
“I never thought that I would be on stage with Martin Luther King III and Reverend Al Sharpton for just doing something that I had to do,” Shaw told more than a thousand attendees. “So I’m definitely grateful, appreciative, and all those words and I’m just grateful to be here and overwhelmed by the round of applause.”
Other notable guests in attendance included Sybrina Fulton, mother of Trayvon Martin, MSNBC host Joy-Ann Reid, author and radio host, Michael Eric Dyson, and awardees Robert DeNiro and Mary J. Blige. The “Queen of Hip Hop Soul” took home the night’s final honor, and confessed, “Without prayer, there is none of this.” She also used her time on stage to thank Sharpton for his continued support, saying, “When Reverend Al Sharpton is on your team, you have someone on your team for life.”
Before the evening’s festivities came to an end, the long-time civil rights activist reminded guests of the importance of keeping Dr. King’s fight alive. “In these times when many of the things Dr. King fought for and got done — the Voting Rights Act, the Civil Rights Act of 64’, Open Housing Act — they are all under threat, and they are trying to rescind some of the voting rights and they are certainly infringing upon civil rights,” Sharpton stressed. “But just like Dr. King kept fighting, you are in a room of 1300 fighters, of people who refuse to bend or bow.”