Stealing the Show: Youthful Speaker Impresses NAACP Audience

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By EDDIE RIVERA, Community Editor

4:49 am | October 14, 2016


A tall, lanky, young Pasadena City College freshman with a spunky attitude practically stole the stage from a JPL rocket scientist and one of Pasadena’s most revered faith leaders Thursday evening at the 31st Annual Ruby McKnight Williams Awards Dinner, sponsored by the Pasadena Branch of The National Association of Colored People (NAACP).

More than 300 friends and NAACP supporters filled the Pasadena Hilton’s California Ballroom for the packed annual affair, which was emceed by Andre Coleman, Deputy Editor at the Pasadena Weekly.

John Marshall Pointer, former student body president at John Muir High School, began his keynote address by asking everyone to eat more quietly as he spoke, drawing laughter from the considerably older crowd.

“This is the biggest engagement of my speaking career,” he said to more laughter.

Pointer continued, apparently extemporaneously, “When I was asked by my principal and (NAACP President) Gary Moore to speak here tonight, I was shocked, but I agreed right away,” he said, explaining that he wanted to show that the NAACP was “not just something your grandparents were members of.”

“This is our NAACP, too,” he said, referring to his generation.

Pointer methodically and literally defined the evening’s theme: “Beyond the horizon is the finish line…” breaking it down into three areas — perseverance, faith and service — with examples like Jamaican Olympic sprinter Usain Bolt (“He trained for 90 minutes every single day for four years, so that he could win three events at three Olympic in a row. That’s perseverance.”)

Pointer also discussed the power of faith in his life, and told the audience how his own pastor, the evening’s Faith Award winner Bishop William LaRue Dillard, had been in need of a heart transplant, but was nearing the date when he would be “ineligible” for a transplant due to his age. With only three days remaining before he would no longer be a candidate, the man of fasith received a call from his doctors to hurry to the hospital because a donor heart had become available.

“That’s faith,” said Pointer, who also held Bishop Dillard up as an example of service because Dillard had continued to preach in his church as he awaited the transplant that might never have come.

Ruby McKnight Williams Awardee Reverend Ed Bacon, past rector of All Saints Church, joked about having to follow young Pointer but also cited Pointer’s words as inspirational.

Bacon, in his speech, also cited Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King as inspirations for his long career in faith, focusing on the need for “community” in daily living.

“We must live together as brothers and sisters or we will perish as fools,” he said.

“You can’t be a human being alone, you can’t fight racism or injustice alone,” Bacon continued. “It takes a community.”

Education Award Winner Powtache Valerino, a navigation engineer at Jet Propulsion Laboratories, looked back on her earliest years, when in 1986, in a classroom with her New Orleans classmates and remembeed watching the Challenger Space Shuttle explode minutes after leaving the launch pad, killing all aboard, including schoolteacher Christa MacAuliffe.

“That only inspired me to make astronomy my career,” she said. “I had watched the stars and the skies all my life.”

Along with her award, Valerino received another surprise when her parents, who live in New Orleans, surprised her by flying out and attending the awards dinner.

“My dear husband is at home with our 4 year-old, and that’s why I love him,” she told the appreciative audience.

Other awardees included Helen Rener, Community Award; Sumayyah Muhammad of Blair High School, Youth Award; Brad Ratliff, Tournament of Roses president, Presidents’ Award; Craig and Carolyn Watson, Arts Award, and Mark Fritz, First Tee of Greater Pasadena, Sports Award.

Ruby McKnight Williams, for which the awards and evening is named, was the Pasadena NAACP president in 1959, 1960, 1969, and on into the 1970s, during which time, the branch supported two national precedent-setting civil rights cases. She was given the honorific title of President Emeritus in 1983.