COLUMBIA — Bill Clark said he grew up surrounded by racism but still learned at an early age to see people for the content of their character, not the color of their skin.
Clark, 77, and his wife, Dolores, 73, received this year's Columbia Values Diversity individual award on Thursday, and Centro Latino won the award for organizations. The awards were given at the 17th annual Columbia Values Diversity Celebration on Thursday.
The Columbia Values Diversity breakfast also featured the artistic program, "Where are we now?", which incorporated dancing, singing and acting from different cultures. Performing groups included:
A panel of judges chose the recipients based on the impact that an individual or group has had on the community in promoting appreciation for diversity.
"This award is presented to the Clarks for the years they have been an integral part of the diverse fabric of Columbia," Mayor Darwin Hindman said at the breakfast.
The Clarks' promotion of racial harmony predates even that of Martin Luther King Jr. and the civil rights movement, Hindman said.
Bill Clark, a 1958 Missouri School of Journalism graduate, and Dolores Clark started the Columbia Athletic Club about 50 years ago, and they welcomed all members regardless of race.
"It broke a racial barrier for those times," Bill Clark said.
While presenting the award, Hindman quoted Bill Clark's acceptance of another award, the Peacemaker Honor, in 2004. In the speech, Bill Clark said he follows the personal philosophy that "conflict resolution must begin with communication, and with understanding comes compromise and peaceful resolution."
This statement not only embodies the Clarks' spirits but also that of King, Hindman said.
Bill Clark, a retired a major league baseball scout, is now a columnist for the Columbia Daily Tribune.
"His columns have introduced generations of readers to Columbians who have made significant contributions to the dynamics of our community, but in some cases have been long forgotten," Hindman said.
Dolores Clark worked as a a substitute teacher and with Adventure Club, a before- and after-school program in Columbia Public Schools.
The group award given this year to Centro Latino honors organizations that strive to increase cultural appreciation and foster a respectful environment in Columbia.
The organization works to help Latinos through programs including health literacy education, youth enrichment and tutoring and English and Spanish classes. It also has a human trafficking prevention and awareness program.
The mayor said these services are intended to bridge linguistic and cultural differences.
Eduardo Crespi, director of Centro Latino, received the award on behalf of the organization.
"The award is very humbling," he said. "It's good for people to understand our group is a part of the community, and this will help raise awareness."