Towanda Peete-Smith accepts the St. Jude Spirit of the Dream Award from former Memphis Mayor A C Wharton Jr., who now is part of the St. Jude team. (Photo: Karanja A. Ajanaku)

Soon after he was shot on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was whisked to St. Joseph’s Hospital, where he was pronounced dead at 7:05 p.m. on April 4, 1968.

Today, old St. Joseph rests on the expanding campus of St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. On Tuesday evening, approximately 300 people celebrated Black History Month at St. Jude during the third annual St. Jude Spirit of the Dream event.

Richard Shadyac Jr., the chief executive officer of ALSAC, the hospital’s fundraising organization, was out of town in support of St. Jude. However, during a taped presentation it was Shadyac who brought the history of the St. Jude campus forward, emphasizing that it was where Dr. King drew his last breath.

Organized in partnership with the National Pan-Hellenic Council Memphis Metropolitan Area, the event celebrated the achievements and contributions that African Americans have made to the St. Jude legacy.

Emceed by Elise Neal, the cocktail event featured art, a live performance from Raheem DeVaughn, dancing and complimentary hors d’oeuvres.

The highlight was the announcement of a new Spirit of the Dream Award that posthumously honored Bernal E Smith II, publisher of The New Tri-State Defender. The award recognizes people who support the dreams of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and champion the lifesaving mission of St. Jude: Finding cures. Saving children.®

When describing Smith, guests remembered him for how he empowered the city’s majority African-American population to make a difference. Others described him as “Memphis through and through,” and as “a passionate and persuasive voice for the city he loved.”

Smith died Oct 22, 2017. He was 45.

“Although young in years, Bernal possessed a purposefulness and power of discernment, far beyond his years. He loved Memphis, accepted it with its challenges, but dreamed of the fulfillment of its potential, said A C Wharton Jr., former mayor of Memphis.

“It is often said that old men dream dreams and young men see visions. Bernal had both, dreams of what our city could become and visions of the joy we would witness once Memphis became truly the place where every man woman and child would drink plentifully from God’s bounty.”

During a special presentation related to the 1968 Sanitation Workers Strike, former Mayor Dr. Willie W. Herenton delivered a personal account of the manhood-defining days of 1968 in Memphis. As a city schools administrator at the time, Herenton said he had to decide if he was going to be a boy or man, choosing to join with those marching in support of the “garbage workers.” He presented the awards that honored survivors of the strike – Ozell Ueal, the Rev. Cleophus Smith, Baxter Leach, Elmore Nickelberry and H.B. Crockett.

“As Memphis and the nation recognize the 50th anniversary of the sanitation workers’ strike and the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., ALSAC and St. Jude are proud to recognize the lifelong work and achievement of Bernal Smith II,” Shadyac said in a written statement.

“Our founder Danny Thomas believed no child should die in the dawn of life and that all children deserved a fighting chance regardless of race, religion, ethnicity or ability to pay – and Bernal Smith certainly shared similar values in tirelessly dedicating his time and talents to equality and advancement for all.”

Also of note was this stirring performance of Dr. King’s “Mountaintop” speech by young Hilton Rawls III:

ALSAC/St. Jude will commemorate the 50th Anniversary of Dr. King’s assassination throughout 2018, including expanding employee community service efforts and promoting positive social change through its external events in Memphis and throughout the country.

Event sponsors included: Blue Cross Blue Shield of Tennessee, Cigna, Black & Veatch, City of Memphis, Allworld, Ampro Industries, Allen & Hoshall, Memphis Convention and Visitors Bureau, Kappa Alpha Psi Greenville Alumni, National Coalition of 100 Black Women, Event Rentals by Hicks, L3Media, Eagle Distributing, Pyramid Wine and Spirits, Pinot’s Palette, D. Arthur’s Catering, McBride Sisters, and Mahaffey Tent & Event Rentals.