The Dallas Examiner
Ambassador Ron Kirk, former U.S. Trade Representative under President Barack Obama – the first African American to hold the position – was presented with the inaugural James C. Belt Life Time Achievement Award Feb. 25. The ceremony took place during an Honors Brunch presented by the United Methodist Men of the St. Luke “Community” United Methodist Church, the home church of Belt for 40 years, on the Paul Quinn College campus.
Kirk was not only appointed with the ambassadorship but is also an accomplished attorney and was the first Black mayor of Dallas, holding the office from 1995 to 2001.
Belt was an attorney and mentor whose prolific civic involvement included service on the Dallas Area Rapid Transit board, as well as lifetime membership in the NAACP. Before his death in 2015, he was the co-founder and Tri-Chair of the St. Luke “Community” Leadership Luncheons, served on the Building Committee, and chaired the St. Luke Trustee Board.
The recognition engendered praise for both Kirk and the award’s namesake from members of the Metroplex’s faith and political communities.
Dallas County Commissioner John Wylie Price recalled that he and Belt butted heads from time to time on various issues.
“I was a very fortunate brother because I got a chance to be side-by-side with him, and speaking at his transition and home-going I got a chance to say, ‘If you have not traded barbs with James Belt, you haven’t lived,’” he recalled, cheered by the laughter of those gathered.
He also praised the principles of the attorney.
“Maya Angelou said you can practice all the virtues in the world, but if you don’t practice the virtue of courage, nothing else matters – and regardless, James Belt had courage. He didn’t back down, no matter who you were.”
Price then addressed the honoree.
“Mr. Mayor-Ambassador, I helped dedicate a new African American Bible that was published by the Inspirational Body of Christ IBOC Church,” he voiced. “And in the front of The Bible it has African American history.”
He spoke of seeing the name of the first African American mayor, Carl Stokes, then going further into the history and reading Kirk’s name.
“And so I come today to embrace what you’ve done and, again – like James Belt – we ain’t always seen eye-to-eye you know … but at the end of the day, I’ll never forget … when you took, and made sure that that street, Malcolm X, was named,” Price paused, and said not fully seriously, “I asked God to take away some of that stuff I said about you.”
A burst of applause and laughter rose from the attendees.
“When Malcom X and Martin Luther King crossed, I’m telling y’all, you don’t know how symbolic that was,” Price emphasized. “But Malcom X comes into downtown Dallas. It didn’t just stop in the ‘hood. It comes into downtown Dallas. And so I just want to say on behalf of the community, ‘Thank you.’”
When speaker Kelvin Walker, managing directors at RLJ Equity Partners and chairman of the board of directors of the YMCA of Metropolitan Dallas, rose to praise the ambassador, he noted that, while neither Kirk nor Belt were originally from the city, both were trailblazers and community leaders.
“As an example to all of us, I remember in 2002 when Ron ran for Senate, I remember thinking, ‘Why is he doing this?’ I knew it would be a tough race, and although he didn’t win, it was very enlightening to see how the community came together – not just the Black community, but the community at large, across the state, in support of this,” Walker recalled. “It was one of the things that really elevated and I think enlightened a lot of young men and women to think further, beyond just the city of Dallas.”
Attorney DeMetris Sampson addressed the audience and announced that, during the 41 years she has known Kirk, there was one leader that especially favored him.
“Governor Ann Richards loved her some Ron Kirk,” she declared. “You’d really have to hear her go on and on about Ron. She always thought there was a dynamic public servant lurking somewhere in Ron. She appointed him as Texas Secretary of State.”
Sampson voiced that the governor’s instincts were especially correct, as evidenced by Kirk’s ascension to trade representative in Washington, D.C.
“When the president was sworn in; I was watching the president come down, you know, and the first lady, that was all interesting to me, but when I saw Ron descend down the steps of the Capitol building, with that hat on, with that coat on, taking his place up there with the dignitaries – and y’all know something? He called his mother from that perch that day while he was sitting there,” she enthusiastically shared.
As Kirk took to the front of the room to be recognized, the full-capacity crowd greeted him with a standing ovation. Yet, before accepting his praise, he offered some himself.
“I cannot thank the United Methodist Men [enough] first of all, for honoring someone that I held in as high esteem as anybody … James Belt, and to Mollie and the family,” he said, addressing the publisher of The Dallas Examiner. “Thank you for all you’ve done for sharing your remarkable husband and father with us.”
The ambassador even credited Belt for the hat Sampson mentioned. It was 20 degrees during the inauguration, but Kirk mentioned he didn’t know where to shop, so he asked Belt since the attorney was the only man he knew who wore a hat on a regular basis.
“He said, ‘Boy, go to Roberts Ready To Wear, right down the street on Martin Luther King,’ and I went in there and Robert was so proud,” Kirk remembered.
“I’m going to be brief because my heart is just filled with joy,” the honoree next stated.
He gave some background on the first Black mayors in the U.S. who came before him who also had roots to the state, concluding that he was less one of them and more following their examples.
“I understood, as my father explained to my brother and sisters, I asked if we were blessed to be the first to integrate school, that a lot of what we were doing was a circumstance of time, and my father always told us, ‘I’m going to be proud of you, but I’m really going to judge you by whether you’re the first or whether you’re the last,’ because we understood: You’d better conduct yourselves in a way that you leave that door open so that somebody can come behind you.”
Kirk then matched Price’s earlier quotation with one of his own.
“Maya Angelou had the simplest, shortest formula for how to live a good life, and she said ‘Just do right,’” he explained. “And at the end of the day, you think about everything James and Mollie Belt were trying to do through The Dallas Examiner, trying to get the community to just do right.”