Dr. Alzo J. Reddick, Sr. only played hooky twice – first in 1948 to see Jackie Robinson play ball and again in 1968, when Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated.
Dr. Reddick was the keynote speaker at Polk State College’s 14th Annual MLK Celebration – the Office of Equity and Diversity’s premier event that draws hundreds of students, faculty, staff, and community members together to honor and celebrate the legacy of Dr. King.
The 81-year-old, who serves as the University of Central Florida’s Director of Defense Transition, shared his life story – from when he was a “nerdy little guy” who served as president of his fourth-grade class, to when he served in the U.S. Army and Florida House of Representatives.
He noted significant moments of progress toward equality for all people along the way.
“It was my first integrated event when I played hooky in 1948,” Dr. Reddick said. “All the little black boys and all the little white boys were trying to touch Jackie Robinson.”
“… it is not the color of your skin that determines your contribution to society.”
Robinson is known as the man who broke baseball’s color barrier. He was the first African American to play Major League Baseball in the modern era.
But Dr. Reddick shared with the audience that Robinson also had a high I.Q. and served in the U.S. Army. He would like to see these achievements by Robinson and other African Americans celebrated as much as their athletic abilities.
This led Dr. Reddick to share the story of the second time he played hooky, when he went to Atlanta for Dr. King’s funeral.
“If we celebrate Dr. King as an academic, let’s also celebrate our (other African Americans) as the academics and warriors they are,” he said. “There are too many instances where young black males like Jackie Robinson are viewed only for their athletic accomplishments. Let’s change that.”
This received a roar of applause from the audience.
“Ensure that (our youth) understands mathematics as much as (they) understand shooting basketballs,” Dr. Reddick said. “We need heroes and we need role models… and (we need them to know that) it is not the color of your skin that determines your contribution to society.”
In closing, he recited the Great War poem “In Flanders Field” by John McCrae.
In addition to Dr. Reddick’s enlightening speech, the Polk State College Foundation awarded three students with scholarships for their winning Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Dream the Dream Scholarship essays on service and the Civil Rights Movement.
Serah Alafiatayo, an Associate in Arts student; Jekerria Mathis, a Bachelor of Science in Supervision Management student; and Jean Woody Luxama, an Associate in Arts student, each received scholarships worth up to $500.
Following the scholarship awards, attendees enjoyed interpretive dance numbers by Polk State Lakeland Gateway to College Collegiate High School students Santira Borders and Imani Fleming.
“I will leave you to think about what you have done to leave a legacy that embodies the vision, the dream, and the reality of Dr. King.”
Valparisa Baker, Director of the Office of Equity and Diversity, thanked everyone in attendance, as well as the Polk State College Foundation, the Tinsley Family Corporation, and the Polk State Student Activities and Leadership Office during closing remarks.
“Dr. King’s message of equality and justice continues to challenge us, continues to make a difference, and continues to cause us to reflect,” she said. “Remember, it is not about us; it is about what we do together, as a people.”
“Ultimately, it is you who decides what is reflected in the legacy you leave behind,” Baker added. “I will leave you to think about what you have done to leave a legacy that embodies the vision, the dream, and the reality of Dr. King.”