GULFPORT -- Businesswoman and community leader Karen Sock is known to answer "me" and "now" to the theme of this year's Coastwide celebration of Martin Luther King Jr.'s life: "If not us, who? If not now, when?"
Sock's community work earned her the Medal of Service Award -- named for the late civil rights leaders Gilbert Mason and his wife, Natalie Hamlar Mason of Biloxi -- bestowed at the 30th Annual MLK Sunday Inspiration Service attended by several hundred people at Grace Temple Baptist Church.
"I believe we all have special gifts," Sock told the audience when she accepted the award. "My gift is to help people."
Sock is the second recipient of the award, added last year to Sunday Inspiration, chairperson LaKeisha Cotten said.
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Sock, a former casino executive, is president and CEO of Sock Enterprises Inc. consulting firm.
She also is known for her work in the community, including Pathways2Possibilities, an education and career expo open to eighth-graders in six South Mississippi counties. In fact, Sock said, the program has reached 26,000 students, helping them focus on potential careers.
Sock helped raise money to establish Cafe Climb, where at-risk youth receive hands-on training in the culinary arts. She also created a CEO Talent Show that has raised more than $100,000 for the United Way since its inception in 2009. Sock also serves on a number of community boards.
Several other community advocates also were honored with
Tri-County Community Champion Awards, handed out for the first time this year, with winners selected from each of the three Coast counties in keeping with the Coastwide MLK celebration.
-- Kayla Henry of Hancock County, a real estate agent with Century 21 Diamond Properties, was recognized for her work with the Girl Scouts, beach cleanup, Bay St. Louis Barbara House for abused and neglected children, and donations to animal shelters in Gulfport and Bay St. Louis and the needy in Diamondhead. Henry has been active with the schools, coordinating a Teacher Appreciation Breakfast.
-- Howard Page of Harrison County was recognized for his work as a community organizer with the nonprofit Steps Coalition. Page has worked for years on the group's Safe and Healthy Port Campaign, helping host community meetings, attending state port board meetings, and delving into port expansion plans to discover and report on the potential environmental and community impacts. The founding member of the North Gulfport Community Land Trust and past chair of the Sierra Club's Mississippi chapter also has lobbied in Washington and Jackson on environmental issues.
-- J'Hai Keeton of Jackson County was honored as a young entrepreneur who shares his skills through an outreach program called GUAP -- Guapington Unifies All People. He is the founder and CEO of Guapington Enterprises, which includes an apparel company, booking agency for models, music management company, marketing business and Guap Shop custom screen printing. Through GUAP, Keeton shares his own journey to success as a way to inspire and motivate others.
Before Sunday Inspiration started, Cotten said, "We just hope that the people are inspired, that they are united to continue the life and legacy of Dr. King."
Sunday Inspiration included music by the MLK Coastwide Choir, and a keynote address by Jessica Norwood, founder and executive director of Emerging ChangeMakers Network in Mobile, Ala.
The Coast celebration continues with the annual MLK parade at 11 a.m. Monday in Biloxi, which ends at MGM Stadium, where the popular Battle of the Bands will be held.