To get out of the deep freeze and thaw out, a host of New Yorkers went to Florida to attend the Howard University Club of Southwest Florida’s annual scholarship luncheon in Sarasota, Fla. The Florida contingency first began in March 2006, when the motivated group, spearheaded by Harvey Webb Jr., an alumnus of the College of Dentistry’s class of 1962, gathered a large number of Howard graduates to make Howard known to businesses and other institutions in the South Florida area.

This year’s keynote speaker was the Rev. Calvin O. Butts III, pastor of the historic Abyssinian Baptist Church and president of  SUNY College of Old Westbury, N.Y. The reverend is a native New Yorker and a graduate of Morehouse College in Atlanta. His credentials, commendations and honors are numerous, and he has traveled to many countries to preach in distinguished pulpits both nationally and internationally.

Former New Yorker Elizabeth Early was awarded the 2014 Outstanding Service Award. Early served on the board of trustees of Howard University from 1987-2013. She was honored in June 2013 at Howard University for her outstanding and distinguished service and her numerous articles published in the American Journal of Public Health. She is a graduate of Howard University. She and her husband, Bob, are currently retired and enjoying life in Sarasota.

Attendees included Marlene “Bunnie” Ledford, Dr. Chester Redhead and his wife, Drs. James and Carolyn Lassiter, Dr. George Jordan and his wife, Elizabeth and Bob Early, Carolyn and Booker Rice, Lorraine and Greg Matthews, Quinta and Fred Schenck, Dr. Arnold Graham and his wife, Leon Harris and Laura Smith, Karen Selsey, Clementine Pugh, Gerry and John Gibbs, Cheryl and Manny Neal, former Judge Betty and Al Lester, Barbara Edmonson and more than 300 local residents and other snowbirds from the New York-New Jersey area.

While the snowbirds flocked to the Sunshine State for the luncheon, many wondered, why not enjoy other festivities in the warm rays of the sun? And so they did. Social hostess Bunnie Ledford hosted a luncheon at Ocean Prime Tampa for her Howard University school chums and friends from the New York-New Jersey area who are now residing in Florida. The ladies had an opportunity to spend quality time reminiscing about the past and the good times they shared together.

Next on the social calendar were Nancy Jordan and Carmelita Brown, who had the ladies for afternoon tea at the Powel Crosley mansion, located on the campus of the University of South Florida. The ladies were encouraged to wear hats, and prizes were awarded for their “hattitude!” Need I tell you that a marvelous time was had by all? No, I didn’t think so.

Not so marvelous is the very mean-spirited attitude of one man of the cloth who is making his views against the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender members of our Harlem community known in a very disparaging manner. The only reason why I am not going into specifics about this outlandish display of disrespect is because I don’t want to give this sordid individual the attention that he so obviously craves. I can tell you that it’s now game on, as one hateful message was followed by … well, it wasn’t hateful, but it was definitely a “here’s back-at-cha” message. You know how one thing leads to another, and before you know it, the situation gets totally out of hand.

I received an email from Dr. Ronald Lonesome, who stated in part, “I was born in Harlem, and I have lived here most of my adult life. I am a retired physician. I served as the director of the medical detox unit at St. Luke’s Hospital until I retired in 2008. As an openly gay man and as a Christian, I am involved in community work to end discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender folks. I am a member of the LGBT Faith Leaders of African Descent. We are an advocacy group that is based here in Harlem and is focused on bringing education and accurate information to our community and especially to churches and to other faith communities.”

Lonesome and many others, regardless of their sexuality, are extremely disturbed by this recent incident and have taken steps to let it be known that such despicable behavior will not be tolerated. I think they should be commended for taking a stance by speaking out on an issue and against the person behind it. There are so many times when we become empathetic against wrongs committed against innocent individual in our society, just when we should speak out the loudest and the strongest. We must stand up and speak up in support of human kindness, dignity and respect.

While there is a strong argument in support of free speech, let’s take it one step beyond. Why do we have to hate someone just because they look differently, speak differently, act differently or are of another orientation than we are? I would think that if anyone is to teach how to “love thy neighbor,” it would be the church. This particular incident is stemming from a church in the Harlem community. Tsk, tsk. Aren’t you afraid, reverend, of being struck by lightning for disobeying one of the commandments, especially during the Lenten season?

If the church is uncomfortable being in Harlem, then maybe it should relocate to another neighborhood so it can preach amongst the other conservative “haters,” which the church has already been associated with, for the church is the one that is displaced.

Doesn’t the reverend know that Harlem has long been a haven for those of varied beliefs and practices? Many members of the Harlem Renaissance, such as Moms Mabley and James Baldwin, were part of the Harlem LGBT community and have made many significant contributions. Coretta Scott King directly linked gay rights with the Civil Rights Movement; I guess he doesn’t like her either. And if he doesn’t like Coretta Scott King, then he must not like Martin Luther King. I think we may have a church of hate instead of a church of God amongst us, and this is not good.

Concerned with the state we’re in? The Long Island Region NAACP Game Changers Leadership Summit will take place on March 29 from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. at Hofstra University. The event will host a town hall discussion on the state of the Black family led by Angelique Perrin from Cafe Mocha. Adults and children are welcomed, and the event includes breakfast and lunch. At last, a constructive approach.

Until next week … kisses