Hundreds of local students, elected leaders and community members gathered Monday morning for the 33rd Annual Skanner Foundation Martin Luther King Jr. Breakfast.
The breakfast, held at the Red Lion at Jantzen Beach, has been a steadfast annual gathering to commemorate the works of late civil rights leader, Dr. Martin Luther King. It also served as a scholarship award event and Multnomah County’s first-ever sponsorship of such an award for a local student.
“The County has sponsored this breakfast for many years. But this is the first time we’ve sponsored a scholarship for a local student and it’s an honor and privilege to do so,” said Chair Deborah Kafoury.
This year’s breakfast focused on King’s contributions to society, as well as the role of youth. The keynote speaker, King County Councilor Larry Gossett -- who served as the second African American Chair of the King County Council in 2007-- traveled from his hometown of Seattle to speak at the event. Gossett helped found the Black Student Union at the University of Washington and helped to organize nearly a dozen other Black Student Unions at Seattle-area high schools and middle schools.
“Racism in Seattle was subtle,” Gossett said. “There were neighborhood covenants passed to not sell housing to ‘Negroes.’”
Gossett was a senior at Seattle’s Garfield High School, a predominantly Black school in the city, when Dr. King came to visit for the first time in 1961 to share the impacts of segregation and jump start an open housing movement.
Dr. King was turned away by many churches and their congregants who objected to the visit, Gossett said. It was finally the Jewish community, the Temple de Hirsch, that welcomed him, along with Garfield High School students and a large audience at Eagle Auditorium in downtown Seattle.
King, who was murdered at age 39, was integral in inspiring youth and young adults to denounce segregation. Gossett described the role youth played in King’s efforts in Montgomery and Birmingham, Ala. in 1963. Despite being repeatedly arrested and forced into crowded jails, young people continued to share a message of love.
“It is said that the age of segregation would not have been broken without the participation of Black children ages seven-to-17,” said Gossett.
The breakfast also focused on young people. Continuing a 33-year Skanner Breakfast tradition, local and national organizations awarded college scholarships to 29 students of different backgrounds and ethnicities. The recipients were chosen based on a number of criteria including their written essay, letter(s) of recommendation, volunteer work and grade point average.
Chair Deborah Kafoury presented the County’s first-ever award to Kai Mills of Central Catholic High School in Portland. Mills, a senior at Central Catholic, wrote an essay about the impacts of gentrification and societal inequities on students of color.
“It’s inspiring to see someone so young, research and understand the inequities that still exist in our community,” said Kafoury. “And, it’s also rewarding to contribute to his success.’’
Mills joined recipients from Roosevelt, De La Salle, Jefferson, Seton Catholic and Ft. Vancouver high schools, as well as several Oregon college students who also received scholarships.
Mills said he plans to pursue a degree in computer engineering and a minor in musical theory.
“I’m still weighing my options for college,” Mills said, “I’m just thankful to have received this award.”