A civil rights activist celebrates his birthday

TAMPA, Fla. — A renowned civil rights activist and former executive assistant to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. is celebrating her birthday by giving back to communities across the country.

What do you want to know

  • Dr. Xernona Clayton is a civil rights activist and former executive assistant to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
  • She celebrates her birthday by helping people in need
  • After experiencing racism herself, Clayton dedicates her life to ensuring that everyone can live a dignified life.

Dr. Xernona Clayton chose a Tampa Bay family to shower with gifts.

Clayton heard about the Ortiz family when their mother, Marleny, wrote a note to Dr. Clayton. Marleny struggles to make ends meet to support her three children.

She worked multiple jobs while battling homelessness and struggling with health issues.

Boxes filled with basic necessities were left at the family’s home.

“It’s a little overwhelming, but I’m so grateful, always grateful for anything that can help me, especially anything that helps me as a single mom, I appreciate that,” Marleny Ortiz said.

Decades after working alongside Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Clayton says she continues to honor his legacy.

“He does what he says he does,” Clayton said. “Feed the hungry, clothe the naked. Love your neighbour, be kind to everyone, then there he is. Martin Luther King is in my heart.”

The Oklahoma native now lives in Atlanta.

She says she found her own voice to advocate for others through her own experience of segregation.

As a teenager, she remembers being kicked out of a restaurant because of the color of her skin.

“When he said, ‘you know you don’t belong here,’ it pierces my soul to this day,” Clayton said. “I have a right to be here. This is America, and just because I’m black doesn’t mean I can’t exist.”

Since that time, she says there has been a lot of progress, but she says her work continues to ensure everyone can live a life of dignity.

“Why not use what God gave you,” Clayton said. “If he gave you a voice, use it. If he gave you resources, spread it. If he gave you a good heart, use it. It’s as simple as that.”

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