The mood was cheerful as people took their seats Jan. 12 for the “Stone of Hope” awards luncheon at Club Lohoo in Heber.
Staged by the Imperial Valley Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Committee, the awards recognize members of the community who best exemplify the philosophies of iconic civil rights activist who was assassinated in Memphis in 1968.
The honorees were Tim Blankenship, Alberto Galvan, Rusty Garcia, Linda Gardner, Marva Doretha James-Walker, Arin Noel Lawson, Rosalie O. Lopez, Daniel Machain, and Brenda Torres. Judith Malone and the Heber Hawks drumline served as musical performers for the afternoon. The Rev. Terrence Simms gave the Unity prayer and the Rev. Jared Moten of Ebenezer Missionary Baptist Church served as the event’s keynote speaker.
Blankenship, a Calexico native, served for 34 years at the El Centro Police Department and was engaged with the community in El Centro making life-long friends.
“Being honored today is really quite humbling. Looking at the honorees alongside me, you can see the caliber of person required to be up there today. Some of the other honorees I just met today, and just by reading off their accomplishments I’m very impressed,” he said.
“However, I have known Rusty Garcia for over 40 years, and I can say he’s exceptional. I’ve been retired for around 15 years, so I certainly didn’t expect this honor,” he added.
Similarly, Garcia, being born in Brawley, represented his hometown that afternoon. He recalled growing up there was no separation between black, brown, or white. All he was interested in as a child was having fun.
“When I received the email letting me know of this honor, it was very emotional,” Garcia explained. “Being at the same table as these people is quite an honor. It felt good because I try to absorb the things Dr. King instilled in the country. I received the honor due to the civic-minded duties I carry out.”
The proceedings began with the call to order by the Rev. Denise Jackson, who then introduced the honorees, after which Isaac Morales and the Heber Hawks drumline performed. The theme of the event was “Respect – A Basic Human Right” and played off of the section of the program honoring Aretha Franklin, the late singer known for her civil rights activism.
Martha Garcia, president of Imperial Valley College, said, “I’m filled with joy. It’s really a privilege to honor community members that contribute to make this community a better one to live in and contribute to preserve the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King.”
Referring to today’s political and racial climate and its correlation with King’s views, Garcia said, “His teachings should definitely be emphasized today, especially when we’re living what we’re living. The important thing is to hold on to that dream of a better life."