Hosted by the Martin Luther King Jr. Committee, the breakfast's main purpose, according to chairwoman Genetta Moore, is to raise money for scholarships. Nearly 300 tickets were sold for this year's breakfast, at $15 each.
The committee was established in 1968 - the year Dr. King was assassinated - and it wasn't long before the scholarship was created.
“I decided we need something to work toward. Not just a meeting. So I said, ‘Why don't we establish a scholarship fund?,' and everybody agreed,” Moore said.
According to the committee's modern mission statement, “The goal of the Martin Luther King Jr. Scholarship is to assist area high school seniors in their effort to realize the dream of a quality college education. In seeking to accomplish this vitally important mission, we hold a yearly fundraising event.”
Committee member Laura Walker said, “So many people think of Dr. Martin Luther King as being for African-Americans, and he was not. He was for inclusion, and we have to include all of our citizens in this day and time. It's just a shame that our children are not aware of the great past that we have - black and white.”
When the scholarship breakfast first began in 1991, the committee offered $300 each to two local students. It was later raised to $500, and then raised again to $1,000 each for three students. Today, the scholarship has grown considerably since its creation, and now offers $2,000 each for four students.
“The cost of college keeps going up, and we can't keep up with that, but we try to do the very best we can,” Moore said.
The scholarship is offered to students at Portsmouth and Notre Dame high schools who maintain a 3.0 grade point average.
“We really appreciate the Martin Luther King Committee, and their efforts to help students further their education. We've always been supportive of it, and it is exciting to have our students apply and participate in their program,” said Portsmouth City School Board President Clarence Parker.
Additionally, candidates must complete an essay on the topic, “What did Martin Luther King Jr.'s life mean to me?”, and also complete several hours community service. In all, nearly 70 local students have been awarded the scholarship since 1991.
One of those students was Cristal Thomas - a former Portsmouth High School student who used her scholarship in 1993 to attend The Ohio State University, where she earned a degree in molecular genetics. Afterward, she changed focus and earned a graduate degree in public policy. Today, Thomas is director of executive Medicaid management administration inside Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland's cabinet.
Thomas returned on Saturday to speak at the scholarship breakfast.
“The scholarship was very important, because for one, it was encouraging. It's a recognition of what you've done in high school, and a vote of confidence that sometimes you need when you're going to college,” she said.
Thomas encouraged local youths to consider applying for the Martin Luther King Jr. Scholarship.
“I absolutely encourage them to apply, and encourage them to really explore all options. High school is wonderful, but life after high school can be even better, and you just want to invest in yourself,” she said.
As Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday approaches this month, the committee has other activities planned in celebration. On Jan. 13 at 2:30 p.m., the annual march will begin in the east parking lot of Shawnee State University. Afterward, a memorial service will take place at Christ Temple Church at 13th and Waller streets. The following week, on Jan. 20, a gospel concert will take place at 4 p.m. at Kingdom Builder's Evangelistic Ministry Church on Waller Street. Also, on Jan. 21, a youth workshop for ages 4-8 will take place at 10 a.m., followed by a winter picnic at noon, at Farley Square Community Center. Later that evening at 7 p.m. will be a celebration and performing arts program at Notre Dame High School.
“On this committee, I'm just so very, very thankful that I live in Scioto County, because Scioto County comes out in a big way,” Walker said.
RYAN SCOTT OTTNEY can be reached at (740) 353-3101, ext. 235.