Looking out over a crowd of people of all ages, Col. Joseph Bryant Jr. said sometimes tragedy brings people to a crossroads in their lives.
"Be careful what you do and say," Bryant told more than 250 people gathered at Cape Henlopen High School for an annual banquet celebrating the life and teaching of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.. "Dream about your future and dream big, young folks; the future is in your hands. Dr. King never stopped dreaming of what could be done."
Bryant tied his speech to the 2013 theme: "What would Dr. King do?" He recalled his education at University of Delaware and training at Harvard for a career in the New Castle County police force and his more recent position as the first black colonel of the Delaware River and Bay Authority.
His decisions as a youth, Bryant said, had been brought about, in part, by King's teachings and his assassination, But it was the death of Bryant's older brother in a robbery attempt gone wrong that clarified his path.
"This was the worst day of my life, but this was also a crossroads in my life," he said.
After that, Bryant made the decision to follow the path of education and sports, he said.
He advised his peers to act as mentors to the younger generation and advised the youth to set goals for themselves and develop a strategic approach to accomplishing those goals, maintaining a positive outlook and peer group of good character..
West Rehoboth New Beginnings Program Director Diaz Bonville brought a group of more than 50 members of his organization to the banquet, standing out in orange shirts that read, "Every child deserves a crown; empowering young people to make a difference."
Bonville said his group’s attendance this year was a first for most of the students and adults from West Rehoboth and fits in with the year’s theme of exposing students to black culture.
“It’s our goal this year to expose them to their African-American culture and what better way than the Martin Luther King Jr. banquet,” he said. “Some of these children live with single mothers, and we want them to be exposed to positive role models.”
Waynne Paskins, one of the founders of the banquet, said this year’s focus on youth was to make sure the community continued to educate young people about the legacy of Dr. King, even as the decades pass since his assassination.
“Youth always need direction and the youth are getting younger. They don’t always learn about Dr. King in school these days,” Paskins said. “We have the responsibility to let our children know about Martin Luther King Jr. and other examples of important African Americans.”