Celebrating ‘champions for change’ on MLK Day

Post courtesy of April Toler, who regularly blogs at Health & Vitality and Student Experience

Hundreds of Indiana University administrators, faculty, staff and students, alongside members of the Bloomington community, gathered Monday to honor Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. during the university’s annual MLK Leadership Breakfast.

Sitting in Alumni Hall, it was hard not to be inspired by the profound words spoken by the day’s guests, including IU President Michael McRobbie, Provost Lauren Robel and keynote speaker Soledad O’Brien, who encouraged the crowd to ask themselves “What can I do?”

A performance by IU’s African American Choral Ensemble amazed the crowd, and after we all held hands and sang the “Unity Anthem,” I think everyone left the event feeling inspired and a little more hopeful.

Dedric Dennist Sr., Julia Joshel and Brandon Washington

Building Bridges Award winners Dedric Dennist Sr., left, Julia Joshel and Brandon Washington pose for a photo after the Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration Leadership Breakfast on Monday, Jan. 18, in the Indiana Memorial Union Alumni Hall.

But speeches and performances aside, what I found truly inspirational was hearing about this year’s Building Bridges Award recipients, presented by James Wimbush, vice president for the Office of the Vice President for Diversity, Equity and Multicultural Affairs.

The awards recognize individuals, groups of people and organizations that capture King’s vision, spirit and leadership.

Whether a young student starting an on-campus food pantry or a residence manager helping to create diversity training for IU resident life staff, this year’s Building Bridges recipients shine a bright light on the everyday work being done by IU students, faculty, staff and community partners.

As Wimbush noted, “Like Dr. King, these five individuals – Mercedes, Brandon, Terri, Julia and Dedric – are champions. Champions for change, to show us even a single person can make a difference.”

This year’s Building Bridges Awards winners:

Mercedes Jones, a senior studying public management in the School of Public and Environmental Affairs, is this year’s undergraduate recipient. Jones is a Hudson and Holland Scholar and creator of Crimson Cupboard, a food pantry for students on the IU Bloomington campus.

Brandon Washington, a graduate student in African American and African Diaspora Studies, is this year’s graduate or professional student recipient. Washington, who hopes to one day become a lawyer, has studied abroad in Ghana and London, traveling to Liverpool to study the Transatlantic Slave Trade. He has served as an AmeriCorps VISTA Fellow for the Indianapolis Mayor’s Office of Education Innovation and has volunteered in support of the Black Lives Matter movement.

Terri Francis, associate professor in the Department of Communication and Culture, is this year’s faculty recipient. Francis is a former associate professor of Film Studies and African American Studies at Yale University and author of “Josephine Baker’s Race Burlesque: Blackness, Power and Visual Pleasure,” which will be published by IU Press.

Julia Joshel, residence manager for Residential Programs and Services, is this year’s staff recipient. After identifying a need for a more structured and discussion-based series to better equip staff for the changing university climate, Joshel helped create and pilot a diversity series training for residential life staff. Joshel received a master of science degree in higher education and student affairs from IU in 2009.

Dedric Dennist, Sr., an engineer at Crane Naval Surface Warfare Center, is this year’s community member recipient. Dennist has served as a volunteer track and basketball coach and math tutor for local students. Dennist also volunteers for a local elementary school reading program and as a mentor to local 21st Century Scholars and is a long-time member of the Bloomington Black History Month Committee.

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