Martin Luther King award puts spotlight on Guyana
- Ambassador Ishmael
Guyana Chronicle
January 22, 2002

`I...accept it on behalf of all the people of my country whom I am proud to serve'

GUYANA's Ambassador to the United States, Dr. Odeen Ishmael yesterday accepted the King Legacy Award for International Service as an honour for his country, saying the presentation has also put his homeland in the spotlight.

Awardees for the King Legacy Award in previous years include U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell, Bob Dole, Jesse Jackson, and United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan and the late Ron Brown.

Ishmael was presented with the award, which honoured the memory of the renowned American civil rights leader, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., at a packed ballrooom breakfast ceremony in Washington, DC.

Also receiving a similar award was the Surgeon-General of the United States, Dr. David Satcher.

The King Legacy Award for National Service went to Dr. Paul Vance, the Superintendent of the District of Columbia Public Schools, and Dr. J. C. Hayward, an anchorwoman for CBS television in Washington. The Dorothy Height Award for Leadership went to Sharon Pratt, the first African-American woman Mayor of Washington DC who served in the 1980s.

Ishmael said the "granting of this prestigious award to me, a citizen of Guyana, throws a spotlight on my country."

"Guyanese, as some of you may know, like to boast that Guyana is the only English-speaking country in South America. With this in mind, I urge you to visit my country and enjoy our pristine rain forests and natural wonders and experience our culture and the hospitality of our people.

"I also appeal to investors to go to Guyana to explore the great business opportunities that we offer", he told the gathering.

He said he was delighted and honoured to he presented with The King Legacy Award for International Service and thanked the Committee for the International Salute to the Life and Legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. for "bestowing this great honour on me."

"I feel especially humbled, indeed."

Ambassador Ishmael said while he regarded this award as a personal honour, he saw as one for Guyana, as well. "I therefore accept it on behalf of all the people of my country whom I am proud to serve."

He said the commendation was now an inspiration that "urges me to work harder to generate international understanding among the nations and peoples of the world."

"We all need to do more of this since we are now seeing an upsurge of racial profiling and bigotry, two types of deviant attitudes and behaviour that Dr. King firmly struggled against", he urged.

Ishmael said he first learned of Dr. King from his grandfather in the early l960s during his boyhood days.

"Grandfather, who lived in a little village, could not read nor write. However, he had a wonderful knowledge of world affairs. You see, he had a very big radio which he kept on a table in the front part of his house.

"Powered by a car battery, his radio picked up stations from all over the world, and he listened to news from as far away as London, New York, Washington, India, Australia, Moscow and everywhere else", he recounted.

He recalled that in the evenings, his grandfather turned the radio up at full volume, "and many people in the village without radios were drawn to his front porch, where they sat and listened to the local news and the death announcements which followed immediately after."

The Ambassador said it was on this very radio that he first heard the "distinctive and commanding voice of the great Martin Luther King." "Parts of his speeches were aired, and Grandfather explained to me that Martin Luther King was doing the same for America that Mahatma Gandhi did for India. Even though Grandfather was an unlettered man, he clearly understood the vibrant message that Dr. King delivered to America and the rest of the world."

Ishmael said that since then he began to follow the career and the struggles of Dr. King, and was stunned when an assassin's bullet cut him down in the prime of his life.

"...his ideas and his ideals have helped me fashion my own outlook of life to give service to people with the hope that what good is imparted to others will in turn be passed on down the line.

"I have always been, and will always be, an admirer of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. I firmly believe in his dream that people should be judged not by the colour of their skin but by the content of their character."

He said when he was in elementary school, a teacher implored the class to work hard and aim for the stars.

"I think that is what all of us should do. For, you see, even if we fall short, we can still reach the mountain top. From there, we can have a very clear view of the world that surrounds us, and work with others to help solve the numerous problems that we see from there.

"This is what Dr. King would have wanted all of us to do. It was a great part of his dream for America and the world.

"Let us all work to fulfil his dream. Let us climb to the mountain top."