dwindling participation, city and county combine MLK awards
PAT SCHNEIDER |
The Capital Times | firstname.lastname@example.org | Posted: Sunday, January 10,
2010 5:30 am |
Charles Johnson-Brown hugs his daughter, Christina, 9, as Monica, 6,
claps, after Brown received the Dane County Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.,
Recognition Award from Dane County Executive Kathleen Falk in 1998. Andy
When it came time
to pick a winner of the city of Madison's Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King
Jr. Humanitarian Award last year, it was a no-brainer. Only one person
had been nominated.
That may have been
enough, as the nominee was the irrepressible Milele Chikasa Anana, the
well-respected publisher of UMOJA magazine and a long-time chronicler of
life in Madison's African-American "Village." But the tepid response to
the program raised questions about how it was being administered, if not
the award's continued significance.
That was even more
true for the award's youth category, which had managed to attract only a
single nominee in each of several recent years.
So on Jan. 18,
when people gather at the Overture Center to honor the legacy of civil
rights pioneer King, there won't be an eponymous city Humanitarian
Award. The award has been consolidated with the similarly named Dr.
Martin Luther King Jr. Recognition Award bestowed by Dane County in an
effort to breathe new life and relevance into the program.
"Now we have a united front and a single focus in recognizing the work
and contributions of all Dane County citizens toward fulfilling the
goals and aspirations of Dr. King, says David Wandel, chairman of the
joint City-County Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Humanitarian Award
Commission. "We'd like to see many more nominees in the future. There
are wonderful people out there who need to be acknowledged."
named awards handed out at the same ceremony by two governmental bodies
was just too confusing, says Isadore Knox, director of the county Office
of Equal Opportunity. "The mayor and the county executive felt the
consolidated award would be a more effective use of resources and less
cumbersome to the public."
The process of
combining the two awards took a year, involving legal counsel on both
sides as well as action by the City Council and the
County Board, says Wandel. Then Mayor Dave Cieslewicz and County
Executive Kathleen Falk had to make their appointments to the new
commission. As a result, the solicitation of 2010 nominees got a late
start, he says.
Still, the effort,
on a simplified nomination form, netted eight adult candidates and one
youth candidate among Dane County residents. Nominations for the city
award - which was restricted to city of Madison residents only -- have
ranged from eight to one in the adult category and five to one in the
youth category over the past five years, while nominees for the county
award, which had an adult category only, numbered from six to nine in
that period. The city award has been given out since 1974, while the
county award began in 1991.
Knox, who staffs
the new nine-member commission, anticipates that the nomination process
may be streamlined even further in coming years, and he echoes
saying that it has to stop being the year-end crunch it has become. "It
has to be easier, and I think someone should be able to make a
nomination year-round," Knox says.
Wandel says he'd
like to see the range of potential nominators expanded, especially for
youth candidates. The process lately has relied mostly on school
guidance counselors. There has not yet been consideration of involving
young people in the process of nominating peers who work to support the
ideals of King, he says.
It's important to
instill an appreciation for the work of King in young people, says Nia
Enemuoh-Trammell, who served on the city committee for several years and
now sits on the joint commission.
"It's a legacy we
don't want to be forgotten, but as time goes on it's easy to forget the
struggle and the tremendous amount King and his era contributed to make
our society a better place to live," she says.
significance does an award like the one given by the city and county
Ask Oscar Mireles.
The executive director of Omega School, Inc., a non-profit organization
that prepares clients for general education and high school equivalency
exams, Mireles was awarded the county's Martin Luther King Recognition
Award last year.
He recalls now
that he was surprised at how much he was affected by receiving it.
"When they bring
you up on stage, and the spotlight is on you, and your children are
there...it becomes very personal," Mireles says. The award helped seal
his legacy to his kids, now teenagers and young adults, he says. "They
know that the community recognizes what you do."
"It's hard to get
your head around, but when you're up there, it's more humbling than most
people realize," says Mireles, who adds that he still has the first
community award he ever received: a small plaque awarded in 1981 for his
leadership in the Hispanic community in Racine.
"It had a big
impact on me," says Mireles. That's one reason why he thinks it's
especially important to recognize young people's contributions to their
communities. "It could be the tipping point for them getting to where
they need to go."
The challenge for
the new commission members will be to deliver that message about the
award's significance. "We need to figure out how best to trigger people
being more conscious of it," says Wandel.