On a gloomy overcast day better suited for curling up on the couch and listening to old Prince songs, more than 800 people summoned the energy to soldier into the Hyatt Regency Tampa for the 31st annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Leadership Breakfast.
Camaraderie prompts many to make the Tampa Organization of Black Affairs breakfast a can't-miss event, even though it begins at 6:45 a.m. — a start time harking to when the third Monday in January wasn't a holiday.
Yet the impetus for attending goes far beyond fellowship and food. What gets served for breakfast isn't as important as what we seek on the special day: a heaping helping of inspiration, a dose of optimism and a side of historical perspective.
The Rev. Corliss D. Heath turned chef and delivered all of those delectables.
An applied anthropology doctoral student at the University of South Florida, Heath called upon her previous work at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as well as her theological ties to provide much-needed nourishment.
And she spiced her keynote speech with a savory dose of challenge that rivaled the biggest bottle of Tabasco.
Nobody left hungry.
"I believe that when Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation, for some of us, it only gave us freedom on paper," Heath intoned with all the verve you would expect from someone on the Mount Olive AME Church ministerial staff.
"It's apparent that some of us still aren't free. And just so you will know, enslavement is not relegated to a plantation and a master per se. You don't have to have visible shackles on your hands and your feet; those are easy to remove.
"But it is chains that bind and entangle our minds and spirit that concerns me."
Heath challenged black churches to reassert their roles as places of leadership development, protection and day-to-day survival needs.
"We have become so obsessed with being a witness for Jesus, proclaiming his life, death and resurrection," Heath charged. "But in that, we have failed to understand that the struggle for equality, liberating the poor and oppressed is part of what Jesus both lived and died for."
Some of Heath's most-pointed comments involved two subjects not often heard in these types of settings. She called for the black community to embrace mental health care, and the former CDC researcher sounded the alarm about the HIV/AIDS epidemic.
"Many of us won't get tested, and updating our Facebook status is more important than knowing our HIV status."
Most of all, Heath offered a recipe for future expectations.
"When we get tired of hate, we will stop living in fear. When we get tired of injustice, we will stop judging one another.
"When we get tired of criticism, cynicism and victimization, we will live in truth and take responsibility for what we do.
"When we get tired of the chaos in this world … perhaps we will begin to love one another as we truly love ourselves."
As always, the breakfast rekindled desires for improvement. We annually come for a motivational meal even though we can't conquer every challenge.
I just hope the awesome words convert from feel-good admonitions to true change.
We can't keep asking for more if we fill our hearts but don't act upon the inspiration.
That's all I'm saying.