When Fresno’s Martin Luther King Unity Committee meets every August to choose the recipients for its annual awards, friendly arguments usually ensue.
But choosing this year’s recipients was a no-brainer, said Gregory Barfield, a committee member and chief of staff to Fresno City Council president Oliver Baines.
Friday night, the annual Martin Luther King Jr. awards honored three Fresno educators and unveiled a bronze bust of the late Rutherford “Bud” Gaston, Fresno Unified’s first black principal.
Former community college trustee Dorothy “Dottie” Smith, Fresno County schools Superintendent Jim Yovino and former Gaston principal Steve Gonzalez each were honored at the event at Gaston Middle School.
This year’s honorees “embody the wisdom and spirit of Dr. King,” Barfield said.
The three reflected on their long careers in the Valley as public educators. Smith, a State Center Community College District trustee for 33 years, and Yovino expressed gratitude in serving the Valley’s youth.
“This award means more to me than any other award I’ve received,” Yovino said.
Before a crowd of about 75 people and in front of a collage of King photos, Gonzalez gave an emotional thank you speech. Summer Gaston-Gheris, vice principal at Wilson Elementary in Fresno, said Gonzalez played an important role in bringing southwest Fresno its first middle school.
The school opened its doors in August, housing a student population that formerly went to schools outside the neighborhood.
Fresno Unified Superintendent Michael Hanson said Gaston Middle served as an “example of doing the right thing, but it sure wasn’t easy.”
“We as a community did the wrong thing,” Hanson said. “We allowed the wrong thing to happen for 30-some odd years. We bused kids out of this community.”
The weekend of events celebrating King started Friday with a garlanding ceremony in downtown Fresno.
The annual awards event honors community, civic, education and government leaders. Well-Being Senior Solutions, an in-home care company for the elderly, also received an award.
Friday’s crowd cheered as Gaston’s bust was unveiled.
“Just like Martin Luther King, Bud Gaston had a dream,” said nephew Everett Gaston. “His dream was for all children to have a good education and to dream big.”
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