Author Pat Conroy, the CEO of Beaufort-Jasper-Hampton Comprehensive Health Services and a New York City nonprofit organization became the latest inductees into the Penn Center's 1862 Circle on Saturday night.
Conroy, Roland Gardner and the Sanfoka Circle, a New York City charity that has helped raised money for Penn Center for about 20 years, were honored during the Penn Center's 8th annual 1862 Circle Gala at the Holiday Inn in Beaufort.
Conroy said he felt honored by the recognition because of what Penn Center meant to his life and the role it played during the Civil Rights Movement.
"It was at Penn (Center) that I met Dr. Martin Luther King on a street now named for him," Conroy said. "I met ... the entire leadership of the Civil Rights Movement that brought the South kicking and screaming into the 21st century. I came to Penn Center for the first time 50 years ago; can you imagine what it feels like for me tonight?"
The 1862 Circle was created by Penn Center in 2003 to honor "leaders who embody the spirit of Penn Center and who serve as national advocates for the enduring history and culture of the Sea Islands," according to event organizers.
The award draws its name from the year of the Penn Center's founding, organizers said.
Past inductees include actress Phylicia Rashad, U.S. Rep. James Clyburn, former U.S. Sen. Fritz Hollings and artist Jonathan Green.
Like those who came before them, Saturday's inductees were chosen because of their continued commitment to Penn Center and their efforts at preserving area history, said George Barnwell, a member of the center's board of trustees.
"Tonight we're going to witness the induction of three new members ... who all exemplify the outstanding qualities and characteristics of the people previously inducted into the 1862 Circle," Barnwell said.
Gardner said the award was not only a recognition of what he, Conroy and the Sankofa Circle had done for Penn Center but was also a challenge to all in attendance to continue to do more for the community.
"Doing nothing for others is the undoing of one's self," Gardner said. "It is our light and not our darkness that makes us who we are."