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Legends, Heroes & Heroines Recognized at Sweet Auburn Festival Awards


Top: Lt. Governor, Mark Taylor, Giriraj Rao and Kunmi Oluleye.

The four awardees Douglas Barzey, Farooq Soomro, Mrs.Wilma Kruger and Giriraj Rao. Also seen are Charles Johnson (in gray suit) and Hana Soomro (little girl in pink).

Bottom: Charles Johnson and Giriraj Rao.

The Friends of Sweet Auburn organized ‘the Legends, Heroes and Heroines Awards Recognition Lunch’ to pay tribute to the Honorary Festival C0-Chairs and the members of the Festival Committee for 2006, who manifested the spirit of Sweet Auburn and made the Festival ‘the grandest Festival of the year on the greatest street on the planet’.

The lunch sponsored by ‘The Bahamas’ was held at Butler Street YMCA, on Wednesday May 17, 2006.The glittering event was attended by African-American entrepreneurs, members of the Gandhi Foundation USA, media representatives, Community activists from Africa, Caribbean and Brazil, and was graced by the presence of Georgia’s Lt. Governor, Mark Taylor.

The Awards Ceremony commenced after lunch, when in his brief speech, Hon. Taylor applauded Charles Johnson, the dynamic Founder of the Festival, for organizing the mammoth event on the hallowed and historical Auburn Avenue.” I attended the Festival on a beautiful Saturday afternoon and was overjoyed to see a huge number of grandparents, parents with their children having a great time soaking up the history, soaking up diverse cultures and unique energy of Sweet Auburn. During the last three years there has been a renewed focus on supporting minority businesses and woman-owned businesses which are major catalysts of Georgia’s economic growth. This Festival provided an invaluable opportunity to local community entrepreneurs and they all did a brisk business. I give you my pledge that I will continue to encourage education and minority businesses in Metro Atlanta and Georgia. I thank Bahamas for sponsoring this event and congratulate the Awardees. I very much look forward to attending the 2007 Festival as your Governor” he concluded cheerfully.

In his uplifting Invocation, Rev. Dr. Rudi Kruger of International Church for All Nations, said “I am reminded of the walls my wife and I could see when living in Berlin, that separated the city, and as I confess that then I didn’t believe they could be torn down –and they are no more, so I ask you to break the walls that are here in Atlanta among people of different cultures and races…Thank you for this wonderful Festival that brought many of us together.”

Charles Johnson said that the Festival was a huge success, with a record attendance stretching along seven blocks on Auburn Avenue. The Festival dedicated to Mrs. Coretta Scott King aims to promote her philosophy and to reflect the same spirit that ended apartheid in South Africa, the same spirit that brought down the Berlin Wall, the same spirit that was demonstrated in Tiananmen Square, the same spirit that people all over the world who strive for excellence, freedom, and achievement have, he said. He then invited President of the Trinidad and Tobago Association of Georgia, Douglas Barzey and presented him with the Award-a Plaque signed by the Mayor of Atlanta, Shirley Franklin. Widely traveled Mr.Barzey is a community activist who helps Dekalb County’s African immigrants with technical advice and support in starting and managing small businesses. Accepting the Award, Mr.Barzey said that both Dr.Martin Luther King and Coretta King personified all that is dignified and positive in human beings. They touched minds and souls of people of all ethnicities and nationalities and their message resonates universally. The next awardee, Chair, Atlanta-Rio de Janeiro Sister City Commission, Wilma Kruger, is one of the most influential ambassadors of Cultural exchange and Business Development between Metro Atlanta and Brazil. She thanked Mr. Johnson and presented him with two gifts-a framed picture of Mrs.Coretta King and Honorable Benedita da Silva (the first Afro-Brazilian woman Senator and first woman Governor of Rio-de-Janeiro); and an autobiography of Benedita da Silva.

The third Awardee, Kunmi Oluleye, is a native of Lagos, Nigeria. She is the President of Sheba Foods, a first and largest frozen African Food Company which supplies gourmet items based on Nigerian recipes, to Wal-Mart, Ingles Food, and etc.Sheba Foods also runs cookery classes, publishes cookery books and organizes a Festival called ‘Flavors of Africa’. Kunmi’s goal is empowerment of women through business.Kunmi said she would continue to strive to bring diverse communities together and hoped to be back in 2007 Festival with greater participation.

The next Awardee, Asian-American Foundation’s Farooq Soomro, thanked the Festival Organizers for the Award and said that he wished to recognize the sacrifices made by Dr.Martin Luther King, Jr., Mrs.Coretta King and colleagues.” As an Asian-American, I enjoy civil rights in a country I enjoy living in. After 9/11, there is a greater need for the ethnic and religious communities and nationalities to come together and I wish to thank Charles Johnson and his team for the marvelous Festival.”

Charles Johnson thanked Gandhi Foundation of USA for its participation in the Festival and also for its continuing collaboration with the King Center in celebrating Gandhi’s and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.,’s anniversaries. Accepting the Award, the Founder and Executive Director of The Gandhi Foundation of USA, Giriraj Rao,a highly respected veteran social activist, known for his deep reverence for Gandhi, who with his zealous stewardship of the Gandhi Foundation of USA built bridges with other communities and made the Foundation truly more mainstream, spoke passionately about his long association with Auburn Avenue, his abiding respect and love for Mrs. Coretta King and collaboration between the Gandhi Foundation of USA and the King Center stretching well over 23 years. Reminiscing fondly about the Auburn Avenue, he said, “I have been in continuous contact with Auburn Avenue since 1959. You know, I danced one night at the Royal Peacock! (laughter), and over the years I have walked the walk and talked the talk. Auburn Avenue suffused with the spirit of the Civil Rights Movement, it is a symbol of racial synthesis. Our nation is strong today with the diversity and the ethnicities present today. Guess who created this mystic adventure? Guess who? It is no other person than the graceful Mrs.Coretta King, who we consider a matriarch of the Gandhi Foundation of USA. (applause) She is the one we are honoring at this Festival. It is not often that a person gets a privilege to know a person of that caliber, of that international stature, a person who interacted with Kings, Queens, Presidents and Prime Ministers and ambassadors during her lifetime, a person of beauty and dignity who spoke softly and celebrated an atmosphere of diversity. She kept the spirit of Gandhi alive. In 1982, when Columbia Pictures was about to release the acclaimed award winning film Gandhi, I met with her and actor and UNESCO representative Danny Kaye and film director Sir Richard Attenborough in my office in the Corporate Research and Development department of the Coca-Cola Company. She helped with the creation of the Gandhi Room in the Freedom Hall of the King Center in 1983 and she who began the tradition of observing Gandhi’s Birth Anniversary at Freedom Hall. She made the installation of the Gandhi Statue and the birth of the Gandhi Foundation of USA possible. No wonder that Gandhi Foundation of USA feels that they owe a debt to her. She has left a legacy that will be forever and forever remembered by us all One day there will be a Memorial in her honor. We plan to create a triangle of peace-One Carter Center, one King Center and one Gandhi Center USA (applause). This has been one of the greatest Festivals I have attended and I wish to not only congratulate Charles Johnson but also hand him a few appreciatory gifts on behalf of the Gandhi Foundation of USA.” Giriraj Rao a Gandhi Foundation of USA T-shirt with a slogan ‘Walk in peace-not in pieces’, (introduced for the first time at the Festival); Dr.Uma Majmudar’s book, Gandhi’s pilgrimage of faith:From darkness to light; a biography of Georgia native Rev.Heslip”Happy” Lee,who was a major force in the Civil Rights Movement ,titled The Happy Warrior:The legend of Happy Lee, Srimati Kamala’s Mahatma Gandhi:An American profile.

The above awardees joined the prestigious company of esteemed dignitaries Mayor of Atlanta Shirley Franklin, former Mayor Maynard Jackson, Congressman John Lewis to name a few. Mr.Rao thanked and recognized members of the Gandhi Foundation of USA, Antony Thaliath, Dr.Thrivikraman,Shawn Rao, Vinodbhai Patel, Arunaben Patel, and Mahadev Desai. 

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