Martin Luther King Jr. celebration recognizes distinguished service


The Newman University Student Life office organized its second annual Martin Luther King Jr. March and Distinguished Service Award Ceremony.

A large crowd gathered the evening of Jan. 16 in the Gorges Atrium inside De Mattias Fine Arts Center and walked together, arms joined, in silence, to St. John’s Chapel inside Sacred Heart Hall.

The silent walk was in honor of citizens who advocated and fought for the civil rights act of 1964 but didn’t live to see its benefits.

Joseph Shepard, director of multicultural engagement and campus life, said, “Often we forget about the sacrifices that were made so that we can be where are today. It’s imperative that we recognize those sacrifices and the people who made them.”

Once inside St. John’s Chapel, a commemorative service was held in honor of Martin Luther King Jr. and his wife, Coretta Scott King. A recitation of King’s “Letter from the Birmingham Jail” was read by Newman student Jonathan Liu and a local Christian recording artist sang a beautiful rendition of “A Change is Gonna Come” by Sam Cooke.

The ceremony’s keynote speaker was Yelando Johnson, Ph.D., Newman University Bachelor of Social Work (BSW) program director and assistant professor.

Natalie Grant
Natalie Grant accepts the 2020 Martin Luther King Jr. Distinguished Service Award.

The evening ended on an inspiring note as the Martin Luther King Jr. Distinguished Service Award was presented to Natalie Grant, Ed.D., field education director and associate professor for the BSW program at Newman University.

Grant was nominated for the award for “her personal and professional commitments to social justice, equity, inclusion, non-violence and service, which are distinctive and heavily influenced by the work, philosophy and service of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.,” according to her nomination form.

The other nominees for the 2020 award were Johnson, the celebration’s keynote speaker, Assistant Professor of Spanish Sonja Bontrager and Admissions Counselor Paola Nuñez.

Shepard said the event is about recognition, honoring progress and continued hope.

“I hope people take away the message that anyone can be great because anyone can serve. When we see injustice taking place, it is our moral duty and obligation to speak up, speak out and advocate for equity.”



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