By Carmen M. Woodson-Wray, Gary Crusader
The 38th Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Annual Breakfast will take place Saturday, January 14, 2017 at the Genesis Convention Center beginning at 8 a.m. The sold out event is expecting 650 guests, who will be moved by the solemn pageantry as the Drum Major Award is unveiled and escorted into the room. A bell rings as each name is announced of those who have been honored with the Drum Major recognition, from 1986 to the current awardee.
The Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Breakfast sponsored by the Gary Frontiers Service Club, Inc., which is one of the most prestigious events in Northwest Indiana, was initially just a gathering of people around the life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. at the Gary Genesis Convention Center. The Chairman of the Breakfast Committee Yokefellow Robert Freeland established the event in 1980 with 40 members.
Proceeds from the first few years were donated to various projects that promoted education and other resources for youth in the community including gifts during the Christmas season and to create Easter Baskets. Yokefellow Floyd Donaldson said some of their donations went to children at the Thelma Marshall Children’s Home and to those hospitalized at Methodist Hospital.
The annual breakfast continued to grow and in 1986 the club recognized its first honoree. “It became the Martin Luther King, Jr. Annual Breakfast in 1986. Although we didn’t eat back then like we do now,” said Donaldson. A few churches were invited to the breakfast and the first Drum Major Award was given to United States Representative Katie Hall in 1986 because she was the person who sponsored the bill that turned Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day into a national holiday.
The second person to be appointed as Drum Major was Yokefellow Dozier T. Allen. He is the oldest living recipient and has been a Drum Major for 30 years.
The Frontiers continued to hold the breakfast and give out the Drum Major Award until 2000 when Clorius Lay became the chairman of the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Breakfast. Lay embellished what Chairman Freeland had done and added Marchers at the 2001 breakfast, which became a full part of the service to honor individuals that embody the beliefs of Dr. Martin Luther King.
The first honorees were Dr. YJean Chambers, Dr. Frankie McCullough, Dr. A.S. Williams, Melvin Clark, Robert Jones, Mamon Powers Sr., Cleo Wesson and Rev. Pharis Evans. The youngest of the group was Rev. Pharis Evans. The Drum Major was Dr. Chambers.
In that first group, only Dr. McCullough, Dr. Chambers and Rev. Evans became Drum Majors and the only honorary Drum Major was Rosa Louise Parks in 2006. As a supporter of the Frontiers Rev. Evans has been named an Honorary Yokefellow.
Of the 80 Marchers, there are 21 Drum Majors that have been named since 2001.
Individuals must first be nominated to become a Marcher before they can be made a Drum Major. On several occasions in the history of the Gary Frontiers, individuals have become a Marcher and then a Drum Major in the same year. This has happened four times in the history of the Gary Frontiers that they have chosen a Drum Major from the pool of existing Marchers.