By LORETTA FULTON
The title of an exhibit that runs through May 19 at the National Center for Children’s Illustrated Literature is “Our Voice: Celebrating the Coretta Scott King Illustrator Awards.”
But on the evening of Feb. 12, the NCCIL became “Our Voice: Celebrating the Life of the Rev. Dr. Leo Scott.” Choirs from local African-American congregations added soulful gospel music to the celebration. Guests sat on chairs set up in the middle of the large exhibition room, surrounded by imaginative works of art by African-American artists featured in the exhibit.
The Coretta Scott King Book Awards have been given annually since 1969 to African-American authors and illustrators of books for children and young adults for demonstrating African-American culture and values. The exhibit will be at the NCCIL through May 19.
But the evening of Feb. 12 belonged to the late Rev. Scott, an Abilene pharmacist and pastor of New Light Baptist Church. Scott endured racism when he first arrived in Abilene but persevered and became a local icon, becoming the city’s first African-American elected to the City Council. Scott, a Rockdale native, died Dec. 28, 2009, at 76.
Speaker after speaker praised Scott for his contributions to the city and to the church. Emcee for the evening was Iziar Lankford, pastor of Southwest Drive Community United Methodist Church. Lankford recalled that when the nation needed a leader, the late Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. answered the call. Scott did likewise in Abilene.
“Dr. Leo F. Scott heard the call that Abilene needed a leader,” and answered, Lankford said. “We are here to remember a great, great trailblazer.”
Phil Christopher, pastor of First Baptist Church, echoed that thought with his prayer.
“We give thanks,” Christopher said, “for the way you changed this community through Leo Scott.”
One of the speakers for the evening was Nita Slaton, operations director for the Community Foundation of Abilene. In her previous job as scholarship director, Slaton worked with Scott and his late wife, Piney, to establish a scholarship.
“They both believed that God placed them here to make a difference,” Slaton said.
Being in charge of scholarship funds was a thrill, Slaton said, because of being able to bring good news to so many people. Scott understood how important it was to provide educational opportunities for all young people.
“I came to see a man who was extremely passionate about education,” Slaton said.
Eddie Jordan, current pastor of New Light Baptist Church, met Scott in 1984 when Scott was getting ready to return to New Light, his home church, to preach. He recalled how the scholarship fund the Scotts established at the Community Foundation of Abilene helped provide an educational opportunity for thousands of children.
“To be here tonight to honor him,” Jordan said, “is a privilege.”