Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s January birthday was approved as a federal holiday in 1983.
A year or so later, a group of Key West residents launched the MLK Birthday Celebration & Scholarship Committee.
The official formation of the committee occurred “on the courthouse steps in Key West” the year after the federal government designated Dr. King’s birthday on Jan. 15 as an official holiday, committee member Roosevelt Sands, who’s now 90, recalled.
The committee’s goal for the past 37 years has been to raise funds that help college-bound black students from Key West High School with their education expenses.
In its early years, money for the scholarships was raised during a church service collection on Jan. 15, said Mona Clark, a retired Key West educator who joined the committee more than a decade ago.
“My purpose for getting involved was to help with fundraising efforts,” Clark said, adding that she helped create an annual fashion show and dinner fundraiser at the Doubletree Grand Key Resort. “We’ve been fortunate with the fashion shows, because we’d get local businesses to sponsor tables at the event. Last year would have been our 10th annual fashion show, but we weren’t able to hold it last year or this year due to the pandemic.”
The committee had enough funds in its account last year to fund two $1,000 scholarships instead of the usual four to six.
“But this year we don’t have any funds remaining, and are hoping to solicit donations from the community to replace the money lost to the cancellation of the past two fashion shows,” Clark said.
The scholarship recipients are black, college-bound students from Key West High School who have a demonstrated financial need for the assistance, Clark said.
“In the past, the high school has provided us with a list of students who meet the requirements and the committee chose the recipients from that list. But we’re currently in discussions about enacting an application and essay process for the scholarships.”
The committee is also hoping to enlist participation from younger residents and perhaps some previous scholarship recipients.
“We don’t have a website or Facebook page, and I know a younger committee member could create a Facebook page for us in no time,” Clark said. “That would help us a great deal. We plan to hold a meeting in March or April to recruit new committee members and hopefully start passing the torch to the younger generation.”
Some past scholarship recipients include Mia Castillo, who now works at First State Bank, Clark said. Felicia Leamard received a scholarship in 2019. Candace Matthews and Eric Hall were also recipients, Clark said.
Until the younger generation steps in to fill the elders’ footsteps, the committee continues to solicit donations that can be mailed by check to P.O. Box 1825, Key West, FL 33040.