ATLANTIC CITY – A Pleasantville man who has waged a 20-year campaign against violence in the area was honored with Atlantic County's Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Award.
Perry Mays was recognized Friday, Jan. 18 as the 2013 recipient of the award at the hour-long Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Commemorative Birthday Celebration held at the Atlantic County Office Building.
Since 1988, the MLK Award has been given annually to a person or pair of people who best exemplify the spirit of the civil rights leader who lived his life in service to a noble cause and in service to others, according to officials.
“The true measure of a man is not what he does for himself,” Pleasantville Mayor Jesse Tweedle Sr. said at the ceremony. “It’s what he does for others.”
Mays works tirelessly for the cause of others, the mayor said. During the past two decades, he has coordinated more than 300 anti-drug marches. In 2010 he created the Stop the Violence organization in Atlantic City.
“He is the thread that keeps the Stop the Violence organization together. He is a personification of what everything that the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was all about,” Tweedle said.
“And he is from Pleasantville,” he added, smiling proudly.
Mays, 61, was a 32-year employee of AtlantiCare Regional Medical Center.
He said he started the Stop the Violence program as a two-day gun buyback event.
“But everyone wanted to keep the organization going,” Mays said. “We have accomplished a lot, but there is still more to accomplish.”
He said he was shocked when he learned last month about the shooting death of a 13-year-old in Pleasantville.
“It breaks my heart,” he said. “That is just too young to die. We don’t want to see kids 13 and 14 years old shot to death without a chance to live their lives.”
The answer to the violence is to reach out to them, Mays said.
“Mentor them,” he said. “If you see kids doing something wrong, pull them aside and talk to them. If you think you can save a life, talk to them.”
Raging war against crime and helping keep youths away from the lure of gangs is a 24-hour-a-day job, he said.
“It’s not 9 to 5.”
County Executive Dennis Levinson praised Mays for putting himself in harm’s way by taking part in anti-gang and anti-drug protests.
“If we don’t make a stand and take the community back, they will take it away from us,” Mays said.
In addition to launching five gun buyback programs, Mays has helped to facilitate Pennies for the Homeless, the Young Ladies at Peace Program and created the Healthy Cities Basketball Team, which is comprised of former gang members.
Mays is a member of Holy Trinity Assembly of God in Mays Landing, where he is chairman of the deacon’s board, president of the youth congress and a Sunday school teacher.
Keynote speaker Rev. John Howard, who received the MLK Award in 2007, said the memory of Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. is more alive now than every before.
“That’s because he knew what God is,” Howard said. “God is a protector, a provider.”
Howard said that less than 24 hours before King was killed by an assassin’s bullet, he spoke words that all others should live by.
“All I want to do is God’s will,” he quoted King as saying.
“On the eve of his death, he was only concerned with doing God’s will,” Howard said, adding that men and women of every color should follow King’s example.
“Help those who are broken,” he said. “Help those who are going through things.”
Then Howard challenged all by saying, “What are you going to do to help fulfill the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s dream?”
Past honorees include Rev. I.S. Cole, 1990; John Bettis, 1997; Sid Ascher, 1999; Jean Webster, 2000; Rev. Milton Hendricks, 2003; Bill and Muriel Elliott, 2007; Augustus “Gus” Harmon, 2008; Ralph Hunter, 2010; and Dr. Jacqueline McBride, 2011.
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