Audrey J. Bernard, Lifestyles & Society Editor

*January 18, 2010 marked the twenty-fifth observance of the Federal legal holiday honoring Martin Luther King, Jr.  The Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) held its first observance the year the bill was signed – one year before the holiday became official – making this CORE’s 20th observance.

The Act creating the holiday was passed after more than 16 years of effort by countless friends and supporters of Martin Luther King, Jr.  The Act set aside the third Monday of January as the official Federal holiday.  Martin Luther King, Jr.’s actual birthday is January 15th.

According to the Act, “the holiday should serve as a time for Americans to reflect on the principles of racial equality and nonviolent social change espoused by Martin Luther King, Jr.”

The Martin Luther King, Jr. Federal Holiday Commission has adopted “Living the Dream” as the official theme for celebrating this country’s newest national holiday which expresses the message and inspiration Dr. King generated among Americans in his dream and what that dream awakened in America.

On Friday, January 15, 2010, President Barack H. Obama, the 44th President of the United States of America, proclaimed January 18, 2010 as the Martin Luther King, Jr., Federal Holiday and encouraged all Americans to observe this day with appropriate civic, community, and service programs in honor of Dr. King’s life and lasting legacy.

The election of this nation’s first African American president was one dream Dr. King did not live to see come true but clearly moved us in the right direction for fulfilling his dream of America’s promise of economic and social justice.

Another sign of that fulfillment was the election of the Honorable Michael S. Steele as the first African American Chairman of the Republican National Committee that spawned this reaction from the Honorable Roy Innis, national chairman of CORE.  “With Obama and Steele, both black Americans, as the leaders of their parties, the ground is laid for more open competition between the Democrats and Republicans.”

On Monday, January 18, 2010, CORE honored Mr. Steele at its 25th “Silver” Anniversary Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Ambassadorial Reception and Awards Dinner at the Sheraton New York Hotel and Towers, 52nd Street at Seventh Avenue, New York, NY.

Each year, CORE, America’s third oldest and largest civil rights organization, uses the event to extol the virtues of exemplary history-makers.  The Honorable James Gilmore, former Governor of Virginia, presented CORE’s community service award to Mr. Steele who was elected Chairman of the Republican National Committee on January 30, 2009.

As Chairman, Mr. Steele is setting a new direction for the Republican Party – actively engaging Americans in their local communities and empowering state and local Republican organizations to do the same.

Honorable Roy Innis (CORE National Chairman); Former Virginia Governor James Gilmore; Honoree Michael S. Steele

A self-described “Lincoln Republican,” Mr. Steele earned a place in history in 2003 when he was elected Lieutenant Governor of Maryland, becoming the first African-American elected to statewide office in the state.

An expert on political strategy and election reform, he most recently served as Chairman of GOPAC, and also held posts on the National Federal Election Reform Commission and the NAACP Blue Ribbon Commission on Election Reform.

The chairman’s experiences as a successful elected conservative African-American Republican and his engaging speaking style have launched him into national prominence.  His first major exposure was during an appearance at the 2004 Republican National Convention.

Since then, President George W. Bush selected Mr. Steele to be part of the U.S. delegation to the investiture of Pope Benedict XVI, and a member of the Presidential Delegation to the Leon H. Sullivan Summit VIII in Tanzania.

His ability as a communicator and political analyst have been showcased by his position as a contributor on the Fox News Channel and as a regular host for the Salem Radio Network’s nationally syndicated Morning in America Show.

Additionally, Mr. Steele is an entertaining and eloquent guest on cable political talk shows such as HBO’s Real Time with Bill Maher and Comedy Central’s The Colbert Report.

A corporate finance attorney, he founded his own company, The Steele Group, a business and legal consulting firm.  His writings on law, business and politics have appeared in The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Times, Politico.com, Townhall.com, and The Journal of International Security Affairs, among others.

Born in 1958 at Andrews Air Force Base in Prince George’s County, Maryland, Mr. Steele was raised in Washington, DC.  He spent three years as a seminarian in the Order of St. Augustine in preparation for the priesthood, but, ultimately, chose a career in law instead.  He earned his law degree from Georgetown University Law Center in 1991.

Mr. Steele serves on the Administrative Board of the Maryland Catholic Conference and is a member of St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Landover Hills, MD, where he attends mass regularly with his wife Andrea and their two sons.

Honoree Mrs. Tova Leidesdorf

Honored along with Steele was Mrs. Tova Leidesdorf, widow of a descendant of California’s first African/Danish and Jewish entrepreneur and first American diplomat of African ancestry William A. Leidesdorf.  Dinner-co-chairman Dr. Herbert I. London, president, The Hudson Institute, presented CORE’s international brotherhood award to Mrs. Tova.

Mrs. Tova Leidesdorf, widow of a descendant of California’s first African/Danish and Jewish entrepreneur and first American diplomat of African ancestry William A. Leidesdorf, is an Israeli beauty queen.

Tova represented her country all over Israel and throughout the world.  These travels brought her to the United States of America, where she met and married late philanthropist, Arthur Leidesdorf.

Arthur was the son of legendary philanthropist Sam Leidesdorf.  Sam helped insure and strengthen the birth of Israel.  He personally guaranteed to his dear friend David Rockefeller, a very large loan to Chase Manhattan Bank for the creation of Israeli Bonds, thus financially backing the creation of the State of Israel.

Sam also helped found the United Negro College Fund and brought Albert Einstein to America.  He was chairman of S.D. Leidesdorf & Co. (which evolved into what is known today as Ernst & Young).  To recognize their philanthropy, 30th – 34th Street on First Avenue in New York City, was renamed Leidesdorf Way by former Mayor Rudy Giuliani.

Tova has actively carried on the Leidesdorf legacy.  In 2003 she was named “Woman of the Year” by Shaare Zedek Medical Center in Jerusalem.  The following year “She Ink Magazine” named her one of the “50 Most Powerful Women in America” for civic leadership and social responsibility.

Her charitable contributions read like a who’s who in the book of 501(C)3 charities.  She supports more than 40 different organizations, and feels compelled to speak up for those without a voice.  Leading by example, she not only donates financially but gives her time as well.

Tova is a Mt. Sinai Hospital Founder; Alzheimer’s Platinum Notable; 2007 Diabetes Research Institute Humanitarian of the Year and recipient of the 2009 Leave a Legacy Award nominated by the Miami Humane Society.  In 2009 Israeli President Shimon Peres invited her to the Israeli Presidential Conference to explore actions for the betterment of Israel, the Jewish people and the world at large.

A New Yorker for most of her life, she grew up in poverty, a Haifa, Israel and became a prominent international philanthropist.  Tova has worked tirelessly to bring attention to the life of William Leidesdorf, a little-known, but influential man in United States, African American and Jewish history.

She has also continued the philanthropic efforts of her late husband Arthur, as well as his father, Samuel, which included: helping to create the Israeli Bonds program; assisting with the establishment of the United Negro College Fund; helping to build the 92nd Street Y; bringing Albert Einstein to America; creating the Institute for Advanced Studies at Princeton; and strengthening the coalition between Christians and Jews.

The final awardee was the Honorable James A. Young, the first African American Mayor of Philadelphia, Mississippi, a city previously best known as the site of the murder of CORE workers and civil rights heroes James Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner by members of the Ku Klux Klan in 1964.  Dinner co-chairman Joseph Lovece, Jr., president & chief executive officer, Northstar-Foley Contracting Corporation, presented Mr. Young with CORE’s civil rights award.

Honorable Roy Innis (CORE National Chairman); Joseph Lovece, Jr., president, Northstar Foley Contracting; Honoree James A. Young

Mayor Young became Philadelphia, Mississippi’s first African American mayor on July 3, 2009.  In Mayor Young’s own words he believes “that Philadelphia has made a huge step forward in our relationships, in our politics, and in our effort to bring change in our community.”

Mayor Young pledges to move Philadelphia forward by any means necessary.  “We are going to work hard and we are going to pray hard.  We are going to fuss and yes, we may fight, but the job is going to get done in Philadelphia.”

Mayor Young, 53, was born in rural Neshoba County and moved to Philadelphia as a small child in the early 1960s with his parents and three brothers and three sisters.  As a young man, he was laid off at U.S. Motors in 1975 and after about two weeks his father told him it was time to start looking for a job.  “Back then my parents didn’t let us stay at the house,” Mayor Young said.  “We had to go to work.

He landed a job as a housekeeper at Neshoba County General Hospital where then-hospital administrator Robert Turcotte Sr. saw his potential and sent him to school to become an emergency medical technician.

Turcotte continued to put his confidence in Mayor Young, who went on to become the county’s first EMT and later an EMT-Paramedic, leading the county ambulance service for nearly two decades.  Under the Mayor’s leadership, the ambulance service rose to become one of the top five in the state and the first rural service to provide paramedic care.

Mayor Young served nearly four terms as a District 5 supervisor before he was defeated in 2007.  He is also pastor of a Pentecostal church in Louisville for the past 18 years.

Mayor Young speaks passionately about his love for Philadelphia and pledges to remain active and involved with a special emphasis on economic development, job creation, and constituent services.  The Mayor is married to his beautiful wife Sheryl Young and they have one daughter, Shanda.

The gala dinner kicked off with a reception followed by dinner and the program.  Emmy Award-winning actress Lynn Whitfield served as Mistress of Ceremonies.  Lawrence Beames, finalist, “America’s Got Talent,” entertained.

Dr. Herbert I. London, president, Hudson Institute; Mr. Joseph Lovece, Jr., president, Northstar Foley Contracting; and Mr. George W. Holmes, executive director, CORE, served as gala dinner co-chairmen.

The Honorable Roy Innis, National Chairman, CORE, his son Niger Innis, National Spokesman, CORE, and the King Federal Holiday Committee organized the national observance dinner.

The event drew an impressive crowd of politicians, celebrities, corporate and community leaders.  CORE wishes to thank its supporters and extends special thanks to those supporters who helped CORE to live Martin’s “dream.”  (Photos by Gideon Manasseh)

Audrey J. Bernard is an established chronicler of Black society and Urban happenings based in the New York City area.