Scholarship Triumph: 45th MLK Jr. Awards Banquet Spotlights Achievements of Athens Residents

The 45th Annual Martin Luther King, Jr. Awards Banquet took place on Saturday night, honoring the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Many of Dr. King’s teachings and acts of service reminded Athenians of their part in creating a better society for all. The topic of the evening, “It Starts with Me: Shifting the Cultural Climate through the Study and Practice of Kingian Nonviolence,” established the tone for the event.

The Georgia Center for Continuing Education’s Athens Area Human Relations Council (AAHRC) hosts the event, which aims to commemorate and reward those who actively uphold Dr. King’s beliefs through exceptional volunteerism or social change. At the banquet, the council also grants scholarships to worthy seniors in high school.

The program featured a catered dinner, a concert by the concert choir of Clarke Central High School, and a keynote address by Rev. Dr. Pippin Whitaker, the minister of the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Athens.

Salutations, Masters of Ceremony The evening was kicked off with a warm greeting from Rev. Robbery Finch and Shanna Jackson Sheats, who thanked the community for its support and the awards and scholarship recipients for their community service. Speakers from the Athens-Clarke County Unified Government and the community, such as Deborah Gonzalez, the district attorney for the Western Judicial Circuit, and Kelly Girtz, the mayor of Athens, also offered their greetings.

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The speakers honored Dr. King’s memory and acknowledged the contributions he made that are now ingrained in cities like Athens. While they stated that Athens is attempting to do better each year, all speakers shared a clear message for 2024 – the work is not yet done.

Scholarship Triumph 45th MLK Jr. Awards Banquet Spotlights Achievements of Athens Residents (1)

“The battle goes on—it goes on every day,” Gonzalez declared. “We can do so much more in this town to promote fairness. And we carry it out daily, constructing the future that Dr. King envisioned.

Presentations of Community Service Awards

The Twin Angels Foundation, Hattie Thomas Whitehead, and Mary P. Bagby were the recipients of the 2024 AAHRC Community Service Awards. The award was presented by Tasha Deadwyler, chair of the banquet committee, and Judge Charles Auslander, chair of the committee for the community service award.

For more than 40 years, Bagby has been a dedicated public servant who prioritizes her community’s most pressing needs as well as the growth of young African Americans.

Over the years, Bagby “adopted” families by opening her house to moms who had been evicted and young ladies who were escaping spousal abuse. Bagby welcomes staff members and students stepping off the bus when school starts. Auslander describes Bagby as an unsung “(s)hero.”

Bagby remarked, “One person is a blessing if I can help them.”

The next person to earn the Community Service Award was Hattie Thomas Whitehead. Her early involvement in the desegregation of Athens marked the beginning of her activism. She was put in jail at the age of 14 as a result of her quest for justice. She is the president of the Linnentown Project and a first-generation descendent of Linnentown.

“A great deal of work has been completed,” stated Whitehead. “But in 2024, there will be a lot of work to be done.”

AAHRC Rev. David H. Nunnally, Sr. Founder’s Award was given to Hill and Barnett, the founders of the Twin Angels Foundation.

Scholarship Triumph 45th MLK Jr. Awards Banquet Spotlights Achievements of Athens Residents (2)

The foundation is committed to helping the community as a street ministry. Over the years, they have provided school supplies, shoes, clothes, haircuts, and accessories to thousands of families. Their efforts also include offering holiday dinners to the homeless community and hosting a “Sleep-Inn” on Christmas Eve when they offer food, warm shelter, games, and gifts.

They have grown to include seven independent living facilities and six personal care homes for the elderly and those with mental illnesses. They are now building their Tiny House Village, which will offer low-income families inexpensive accommodation.

“We have faith in the work we accomplish,” stated Hill. “We adore what we do,” We cherish you everyone!

Whitaker, the keynote speaker, spoke about the potential that Athens and its people have to work together to improve the world. Dr. King’s “World House” from his most recent book, “Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community,” was mentioned by her.

Whitaker stated, “[We] must learn somehow to live with each other because we can never again live apart… his vision of the world’s beloved community.”

45th MLK Bouquet 

The Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Athens’ Rev. Pippin Whitaker will be the main speaker at the 45th Annual Martin Luther King, Jr. Awards Banquet on Saturday, January 13, 2024. (Image: Lizzie Rice)

Whitaker claims that by practicing Kingian nonviolence, it is possible to transform society as a whole, beginning with the culture and working its way up to peace and the common good, where everyone can thrive regardless of color, class, or ideology.

“Getting to know your neighbor, coming to understand them, and understanding where they come from is how you defy division,” Whitaker stated. It’s not an instant remedy. It’s not a simple task. Getting to know your neighbor and affirming their humanity is a brave, time-consuming, and effort-consuming activity. If you are the one whose humanity is being degraded, it is your responsibility to insist on dignity and to lean on others who notice you.

Presentations of scholarships

The highlight of the awards was the community youth, with sixteen high school graduates from Athens-Clarke County and neighboring county schools receiving scholarships to support their professional aspirations in writing, literature, business, law, and climate change. The students were chosen through multiple interviews, brief essays they had to write, and their commitment to their communities and future. They were also judged on their academic performance.

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According to scholarship facilitator Marvin Nunnally, “this year’s class was absolutely outstanding.” “These students will undoubtedly achieve great things in the future, based on their resumes.”

Recipients of student scholarships during the 45th Annual Martin Luther King, Jr. Awards Banquet on Saturday, January 13, 2024.

Fifteen of the sixteen recipients received $1,000 scholarships from different sponsors. The students were Akshat Biswal, North Oconee High School; Abigail Lee Jones, Oglethorpe County High School; Julianna Bluhm and Faith Tucker, Oconee County High School; Emeth Gail Borden and Toni Wheat, Madison County High School; Tavarus Smith and Askia Hylton, Clarke Central High School; Alejandra Cerrón-Palomino, Rachel Josephine Huff, Kelia Ariyah Johnson, Yasmin Lovett, Jakiera Adkins, Nayla Villafana and Xavier J. Wymbs of Cedar Shoals High School.

Addisyn Huff of Clarke Central High School became the sixteenth recipient of the $2500 Rev. David H. Nunnally, Sr. Founder’s Scholarship.

Huff remarked, “I want to express my gratitude to the Athens community.” “I hope to return someday and give back to the Athens community as much as you have given to me.”

The President’s Parting Remarks

In her closing remarks, AAHRC President Rev. Hattie Lawson discussed the legacy of Dr. King and the community that continues his work.

In addition to thanking the dinner committee members for organizing the event, Lawson also expressed gratitude to the sponsors, scholarship contributors, and the parents, teachers, and school counselors who have helped the scholarship recipients.

Lawson declared, “I don’t want to leave this organization until the next generation has taken over.” “These young people won’t know what to do when we’re gone if we don’t help them along the way.”

She exhorts everyone to join AAHRC and keep up the efforts to build Dr. King’s Beloved Community, with a special focus on the youth of Athens.

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