Community leaders honored in Lil' Haiti

caines | 5/2/2013, 5:30 a.m.

Ceremony inspired by the lives of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Oscar Thomas Hundreds of supporters attended the 15th Annual Keepers of the Dream Awards Ceremony presented by the Oscar Thomas Foundation on April 3rd at the Little Haiti Cultural Center, presented by the Oscar Thomas Foundation.Nanci Thomas, the widow of the legendary artist keeps the memory of her husband alive through the foundation, which provides annual scholarships.Additionally, the foundation has an educational component that promotes lifelong learning, leadership and creativity in our youth through the world of art. Six inspirational individuals were recognized and received the Keepers of the Dream Award.Dr. Earl Wells, Dr. Rozalyn Paschal, Sharon Sbrissa, Hubbard Alexander and the late Maria and Viter Juste. Dr. Martin Luther King and famed artist Oscar Thomas are the inspiration for this yearly exhibit and celebration which honors individuals who dare to be different and unselfishly give of themselves so that others may develop, and like Dr. King, are architects of leadership, peace, and change. NFL Hall of Famer Michael Irvin, accepted the award for the man who coached him at the University of Miami and Dallas Cowboys. Coach Alexander saved so many of us from tough communities, Irvin said. He is a father figure mentor and friend. Award-winning photojournalist Carl Juste accepted the posthumous award for his parents, the late Maria and Viter Juste. My parents were dreamers, he said. They brought different people together. My parents could. My parents did. This award is an honor, said Dr. Paschal. Dr. Kings sister taught at my school, my grandfather lived around the corner from Dr. King and I was on the honor guard at his funeral. Sharon Sbrissa, who taught 32 years at Lillie C. Evans, recited the schools address and phone number. Some things are just engraved in your heart, she said. To Dr. Earl Wells, retired school administrator and co-founder of Afro-in Books and Things, the night had special meaning. I wouldnt have missed this for anything in the world, he said. My deceased wife Eursla was Oscars mother and I, his father. We adopted him. Im so proud of what Nanci has done to preserve the memory of her husband, our son, through the Oscar Thomas Foundation. After the award ceremony, the Oscar Thomas Memorial Dream Collection Exhibition, based on the themes love, justice, democracy, hope and the dream of all people to walk together in peace and harmony was unveiled in the 2,100 square foot gallery. The multimedia collection, which runs through April 30, features dozens of works, including paintings and sculptures from renowned artists such as: George Gadson, Lew Lautin, Carl Juste, Serge Toussaint, Steven Sylvester, Esther Archange, Christopher Barnhart, Kaylin Brady, Generlyn Jean, Richard Johnson, Caroline Lilavois, Emilio Martinez, Robert McKnight, Lori Pratico, Reav and Troy Simmons. Dr. Wells couldnt stop smiling as he walked the gallery, supported by a cane on one side and the hand of Nanci Thomas, Oscars widow, on the other. The spirit was so high and the love was so strong in here tonight, Nanci said. You could feel Oscar, Mama Eursla and Dr. King in here and they were all pleased. Tonight we were all Keepers of the Dream who laughed, cried and celebrated together as a family. After her husband died in 1997, said Dr. Wells, Nanci didnt just sit around and grieve. She founded the Oscar Thomas Foundation. This is the official, living memorial to my son, Oscar Thomas legacy and I am so proud, I dont know what to do. The exhibit ended April 30th. Miami Times staff report