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Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Humanitarian Award Commission

 

David is the first Chair of the new Commission

David, Dorothy Cotton (Friend and co-worker of Dr. King), SCLC Education Leader & Madison Alder & MLK Jr. Humanitarian Award recipient, Shiva
Bidar-Sielaff

As Chair of the City of Madison Committee David recommended to the Mayor and Dane County Executive that a consolidation of the City and County Committees take place. 
Here is the outcome

David presenting the MLK, Jr. Humanitarian Youth Award to Jarrel-Brannon Luke Montgomery at the 2010 MLK, Jr. King Coalition event in the Capitol theatre.

David and Charlayne Hunter-Gault, PBS Emmy and Peabody Award Winning Reporter and first woman to break the color barrier and graduate from the University of Georgia in 1962. She was the Keynote speaker at the MLK Celebration in 2011.

 
 

The Commission Today

 
     
 

 

Faced with dwindling participation, city and county combine MLK awards

 PAT SCHNEIDER | The Capital Times | pschneider@madison.com | 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 Manis

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."

Two similarly 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 Dane 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 Wandel in 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.

So what significance does an award like the one given by the city and county have?

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.