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Hooper: Tampa MLK speaker Delano Stewart encourages advancement for all

He did not stand behind the lectern to preach, but he delivered a speech rooted in faith.

He did not take the microphone to deliver lessons from the past, but he informed with historic passages and stories of his own rise.

He made declarations about what was wrong and what is wrong, but he also presented admonitions about how to make it right.

In short, he offered wisdom — a wisdom that can be honed only through 77 years of seeking freedom in a nation that once denied his people that most inalienable right.

Lawyer Delano Stewart gave the keynote address at the Tampa Organization of Black Affairs' annual Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. leadership breakfast Monday, much like he has lived — giving of himself.

Stewart, the first black to serve as a public defender in Hillsborough County, spoke of God, of country and of his own challenges — and from the beginning he added touches of humor.

To show that he's still in touch with today's culture, he promised a short speech — one no longer than the short-lived marriage between Kim Kardashian and NBA player Kris Humphries.

He spoke of stories of his upbringing and the life skills he imparted from his grandmother, mother and father.

He told of being on the Mall when King gave his "I Have a Dream" speech in Washington, D.C.

And Stewart built his speech around the words of Lift Ev'ry Voice and Sing, an anthem that grows more beautiful every time I hear it.

"This morning, I want to lift the aim of TOBA," said Stewart, who founded the organization along with lawyer Bob Morrison and accountant David McQuay in 1979. "TOBA's aim is not to be TOBA. it's to be T-O-A-A — Tampa Organization of All Affairs. If I could strike 'colored' from the NAACP, then its goal would be reached.

"The choir sang Lift Ev'ry Voice and Sing. It didn't sing Lift Ev'ry Black Voice and Sing. It sang, 'Lift ev'ry voice and sing, 'til earth and heaven ring, ring with the harmonies of liberty.'"

Stewart reviewed the inequities of the past and the imbalances that continue today, but he pointed out that pride always led the black community to do the best it could with what it had, even if it meant caring for a barren front yard by watering and sweeping the sand.

"We must build for ourselves," Stewart said. "As long as you're waiting for another man to feed you, you're going to get the wrong part of the hog."

Stewart encouraged the audience to reach across racial lines, welcome new leaders and look to make someone's life better every day.

In the end, Stewart renewed the appreciation I have for our friendship. Parts of his speech proved to be familiar refrains from our lunch conversations, but it didn't matter. Great stories never grow old, they just grow better.

At one point, Stewart joked that he could see his wife, fellow lawyer Carolyn House Stewart, whispering that he needed to get back on point.

But I concurred with the post-speech sentiment of Hillsborough County Commissioner Mark Sharpe, who said he didn't mind if Stewart meandered and just enjoyed traveling wherever Stewart decided to take us.

Wisdom is not a simple meal to be digested. It's a feast to be savored — with respect, with joy and with love.

That's all I'm saying.

Hooper: Tampa MLK speaker Delano Stewart encourages advancement for all 01/21/13 [Last modified: Monday, January 21, 2013 10:47pm]
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