The 2017 King Legacy and Service Award recipient, Earnestine McMullen, pictured here at her home on the westside of Lansing during one of her Grammy parties. Her granddaughter, India.Arie was nominated that year. She passed away on March 12, 2009, her family accepted the honor on her behalf.
By Howard Spence
LANSING, MI -- The month of January has been busy in the Greater Lansing area as residents from all different parts of our community and from all different ethnic and racial backgrounds paused a moment on the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s national holiday to reflect on our diversity, our inclusion of all of the people here in our region, and our continuing march on and upward to greater and better social justice and opportunity for all of our residents.
This year the celebration was particularly important given the fact that so many issues and problems and acts of racism and hatred have recently arisen to challenge the progress which has been made in recent years towards the end of discrimination, hatred, and the growth of greater social justice and equity for as all.
Many events – both social, educational, and motivational – were held throughout the region in numerous venues. Special programs and moments of reflection were posted at many churches, civic and government venues, and also on the Michigan State University campus. Perhaps the largest of these community events which focused on remembering the dream of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and rededicating ourselves to ever greater social justice and our region and in our country was held at the Lansing Center in downtown Lansing on Monday, January 16, 2017.
The 32nd annual luncheon celebration was again one of the largest such events in our entire country. Over 1,400 members of the community convened at the celebration luncheon to share encouragement, ideas, and to celebrate the progress, which we have made in the areas of civil rights and civil liberties over the past 50 years.
People of all religious, racial and ethnic, and social economic backgrounds convened in this moment of unity to dedicate themselves to the fight to stamp out intolerance, discrimination, and hatred which has historically divided our nation.
In addition to members of the general public, many of the politicians, leaders and public servants who also have adopted the "Dream" of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. were present to celebrate the successes to this point, and to look forward in anticipation of continuing to meet the future challenges to the goal of implementation of his dream to its fullest extent.
The featured speaker this year at the 32nd luncheon celebration was Ms. Myrlie Evers-Williams. She is an icon in the civil rights movement who has been speaking for and advocating for civil rights for all of us here in the United States for most of her life. This 83 year old icon is the widow of Medgar Evers – one of the early pioneers of the civil rights movement in the South who was killed as the result of his outspoken efforts to bring equality and justice to the Black people in the South, and particularly the State of Mississippi, during the 1950s and 1960s. Ms. Evers- Williams showed great resolve and dedication to the movement for equality and justice by continuing the work of her assassinated husband and also Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in the civil rights movement from that point up until the present day.
Ms. Evers-Williams has been a prominent voice on her own for civil rights in our country for many years. For a period of time she was president of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). Her more recent life and career has focused on efforts to promote education, training, and economic development in communities all across this country.
The entire audience present in the Lansing Center was focused on the words that Ms. Evers-Williams shared in her keynote speech relating to the continuing challenges faced by the civil rights movement – and particularly in these times of great uncertainty where voices of bias, prejudice and discrimination seem to be finding new and enthusiastic voices to attack the progress which the champions of the quality, diversity and inclusion, and Justice have achieved over the past several decades. We have witnessed some of the resurgence of acts of racial, religious, and other biases right here in the Greater Lansing area during the past several months in a time when anger and racist, religious, and homophobic poison have surfaced in aggressive actions against some of the residents in our area.
In addition to a time for rededication to the goals of the civil rights movement, the holiday celebration provided an opportunity to recognize and celebrate the efforts of some of our leaders here in the State of Michigan who have long-standing history as of advocating for equality and justice and for furthering the dream of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. right here in Central Michigan. United States Senator Debbie Stabenow was awarded for her work for securing federal legislation around the Flint Water Crisis. It was a special recognition which included honoring her many years of dedication to securing rights and freedom and liberty for all of the people in our area in particular, and throughout the United States. Lansing Mayor Virg Benero also received a special award and recognition of his support for diversity and social justice in the city of Lansing and throughout the neighboring region.
A wonderful musical treat was provided for the attendees at the holiday luncheon celebration by featured performer India.Arie. She is an internationally known actress, vocalist and musician. She has sold over 10.3 million records worldwide and won 4 Grammy Awards from her 21 nominations. India.Arie added to the message of the celebration by inviting those present to "Breathe" the air of freedom and liberty of which Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. dared speak in his "I have a dream" speech which he gave at the march on Washington D.C. to advocate for civil rights some 50 years ago.
The 2017 King Legacy and Service Award recipient was Ernestine McMullen. She made great contributions to the Lansing community and in the lives of many people. She was passionate about helping those who had social and substance abuse issues. She passed away on March 12, 2009, however, her family, which included her grand daughter, India.Arie, was there to accept the honor on her behalf.
One of the focuses of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s dream was always on improving the lives and futures of our children of all races and backgrounds here in the United States. Each year as a part of the holiday celebration programs here in the greater Lansing area, community leaders, businesses and groups honor that dream by recognizing and encouraging our young people to learn about that dream and to incorporate the dream into their own lives and to share that dream with their fellow students and others in the community.
At the 32nd annual luncheon celebration, numerous awards and scholarships were given to deserving students who had taken time to reflect on Dr. King's dream in essays and speeches, which they had submitted in response to various scholarship essay contests. In particular, the Michigan State University Federal Credit Union and Cinnaire had donated tens of thousands of dollars as prizes for winning participants in the contests. The popularity and importance of the scholarship efforts for our young people is reflected by the fact that this year there were approximately 500 students who applied for and participated in the various related essay contests here in the greater Lansing area.
Among the winners this year of the Cinnaire Martin Luther King, Jr. Scholarship competitions were Xzavier B. Odom of East Lansing High School, Alejandro Salais of Eastern High School, Dan Muzembe of Everett High School, Daylan Hernandez – Suarez of Everett High School, and Nohamys Gatorno Cisneros of Everett High School.
Michigan State University Federal Credit Union awarded scholarships to essay contests winners Kaylee Brown and Jacob Todd who were first placed winners in the category of 9th through 11th grade and 6th through 8th grade respectively. Ms. Brown is a student at Eastern High School in the 10th grade. Mr. Todd is a student at Everett New Tech High School in the 8th grade. Other essay contests winners this year were Sarina Christian of Everett High School, Kaylin Windom of Haslett Middle School, Brianna Sweet, of Lansing Christian High School, and Saniah Giles of Ardner Leadership, Law and Government Academy.
Although the 32nd holiday luncheon celebration is by far the largest such event filled in our area each year, numerous other events also occurred this past week in to honor the memory and the dream of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Perhaps one of the oldest such events is the historical event which is held each year on the Friday before the holiday by the City of Lansing and Lansing City Council members in its chambers.
This event dates back to the historical efforts of Richard D. Letts, former human relations director for the city of Lansing, to establish a memorial in honor of the fallen civil rights leader years before the federal government enacted Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday to be a national holiday. At the city of Lansing luncheon program, which was held on Friday, January 13, many residents came to celebrate his dream and to recognize the contributions to our community from our young people. At the city celebration, the youth choir from the Mount Hope STEAM magnet school performed several civil rights selections.
At the celebration at city hall on January 13, four citizenship awards were given to middle school aged students in honor of their demonstration of outstanding citizenship and human relations efforts in the city of Lansing. Those awards, given by the Men of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc. were designed to reflect the importance, which Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and other icons of the civil rights movement gave to good behavior, peaceful protest, and leadership towards goals of peace in our communities and nation.
This was printed in the January 22, 2017 - February 4, 2017 edition.