By ERNIE SUGGS
The Atlanta-Journal Constitution
Published on: 08/03/07
When the SCLC gathers this week to honor the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr., and the promise of Barack Obama, the presence of at least one more major figure will loom large â€“ Michael Vick.
During a press conference announcing the opening of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference's 49th annual convention to celebrate the organization's 50th year, president Charles Steele noted that the organization would find some way to honor and recognize the embattled Falcon's quarterback who is under federal indictment on dogfighting charges.
"We will work with anyone who opens their heart and arms to us," said Steele.
Steele added that it still isn't clear how Vick will be honored and it is uncertain that Vick will attend any of the conference's events, which run through Wednesday.
The SCLC's support of Vick is the most significant and prominent since he was indicted on July 18 on charges of running a dogfighting ring out of a home he owned in rural Virginia.
The indictment went into great detail to describe the fate of dogs that lost. They were killed by electrocution, drowning or being slammed to the ground.
If convicted, Vick could face up to five years in prison and $250,000 in fines. The quarterback has also lost most of his endorsements and is not in training with his teammates.
National and local reaction towards Vick has been mixed, particularly in the black community. Media mogul Russell Simmons and activist and former presidential candidate Al Sharpton both condemned Vick and called for his corporate sponsors to break ties with him. But last week, here in Atlanta, R.L. White, president of the Atlanta branch of the NAACP, held a press conference and rally urging the public and the media not to rush to judgment against Vick.
Moving forward with their conference, at 7 p.m. tonight, the SCLC will hold its "Jimmy Lee Jackson & 50th Anniversary Recognition Dinner at the Hyatt Regency. The Rev. Jesse Jackson will deliver the keynote at the dinner. Jimmie Lee Jackson was a 26-year-old civil rights protester killed February 26, 1965, by an Alabama state trooper, while trying to protect his mother. Jackson's death was one of the sparks that lead to the Selma to Montgomery march. The trooper who shot Jackson, James Bonard Fowler, was charged in May with first and second-degree murder charges and awaits a spring court date. He is out on a $250,000 bail.
Obama is scheduled to speak Saturday night and former President Bill Clinton is schedule to speak Monday afternoon at the ribbon-cutting of the organization's new international headquarters. Former SCLC President Joseph Lowery will speak at the sold-out awards gala Tuesday night.
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