On Feb. 2, members of the Newman community gathered to celebrate the outstanding service of three individuals at the Martin Luther King Jr. Distinguished Service Awards ceremony.
This event featured a special performance by the Newman chorale as well as featured guests Councilman Brandon Johnson and Pastor Wade Moore. The ceremony was sponsored by the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) committee and student subcommittee at Newman.
“Events like this are important. Anytime that we can talk about diversity and inclusion, I think we should,” said Vanessa Rials, instructor of social work and director of field education. “This event is an opportunity to not only recognize and highlight an amazing person from history but also to highlight two individuals on campus that are making great efforts to support DEI on our campus.”
As Johnson reflected on King’s efforts, he reminded guests that some of the most renowned civil rights events were not by coincidence.
“Rosa Parks’ bus boycott, sit-ins that took place in Montgomery, Alabama, and right here in Wichita — the Dockum Drug Store sit-in — were organized, strategized,” Johnson said.
In the words of King, Johnson shared that “Everybody can be great because everybody can serve.”
“You don’t have to have a college degree to serve. You don’t have to make your subject and your verb agree to serve. You don’t have to know about Plato and Aristotle to serve. You don’t have to know Einstein’s theory of relativity to serve. You don’t have to know the second theory of thermodynamics in physics to serve. You only need a heart full of grace, a soul generated by love. And you can be that servant.”
Johnson encouraged guests to read King’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” the “Beyond Vietnam” speech, to listen to the full “I Have a Dream” recording and to expand their knowledge of the work that King and other civil rights leaders bravely acted on.
2023 Martin Luther King Jr. Distinguished Award Winners
Newman community members had the opportunity to nominate deserving students, staff and faculty members for the award via the Jet Broadcast.
From the pool of candidates, the selected award winners are junior Breanna Brown and Assistant Professor of Spanish and Co-Director of Hispanic Initiatives Sonja Bontrager.
Brown, who serves on the DEI student subcommittee, the Newman cheer and dance team and regularly participates in service activities on and off campus, was grateful to receive the award.
“I think it’s good for us to realize that while we have been able to make an impact in our university, it’s important for us to also know that we can dig deeper and we can always make more of an impact in a broader scheme than just the university,” Brown said.
Bontrager said that receiving the humbling award served as a reminder of the hope she has for all students.
“I hope they have a chance to see themselves, to have their identity affirmed, to have their culture part of the academic experience … to see themselves in the curriculum, classrooms, in our alumni leaders … I hope we can strengthen our relationships with our alumni and leaders in the community.”
She continued, “I’m grateful for the DEI committee, for Councilman Brandon Johnson’s words and the challenge he gave us to dig more, to read more about Dr. King’s message. It is so humbling to even be associated with Dr. King’s work, and I’m grateful to be at an institution where we can at least try to integrate our faith with our work.”
For Rials, the event was an important opportunity to recognize individuals who contribute to DEI efforts on campus, and it did not disappoint.
“This is a celebration to highlight the amazing work of Martin Luther King Jr. and inclusion efforts on campus,” she said. “It’s important that we, as a university, are continuously working on and are talking about DEI in order to ensure that we’re creating the best environment for our students and faculty and staff.”
Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Concentration
Creating a diverse, equitable, and inclusive organization is a must in today’s society. Earn a diversity, equity and inclusion concentration from Newman University.