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Black community stalwarts get their ‘propers’ at M...

Black community stalwarts get their ‘propers’ at MTSU’s Unity Luncheon [+VIDEO]

Lifelong activists who helped to create a “community of solidarity” received honors Thursday at MTSU’s 26th annual Unity Luncheon.

Five stellar members of the Black community were applauded for their achievements Feb. 10 in the second floor ballroom of the Student Union.

"Unsung heroes" of the Black community were honored for their lifelong achievements in five categories at the 26th annual Unity Luncheon Feb. 10 at MTSU. From L, Carl E. Watkins, Advocate of Civility; Melbra Simmons, Community Service; Robert Orr Jr., Contribution to Black Arts; MTSU President Sidney A. McPhee; Elma Black McKnight, Education; and Thomas Keith, Excellence in Sports. (MTSU photo by J. Intintoli)

“Unsung heroes” of the Black community accept honors for their lifelong achievements in five categories at the 26th annual Unity Luncheon Feb. 10 at MTSU. From left are Carl E. Watkins, the 2022 “Advocate of Civility”; Melbra Simmons, “Community Service” honoree; Robert Orr Jr., “Contribution to Black Arts” honoree; MTSU President Sidney A. McPhee; Elma Black McKnight, the Education honor recipient; and Thomas Keith, the “Excellence in Sports” recipient. (MTSU photo by J. Intintoli)

The event, which has been a staple of the university’s Black History Month celebration since 1996, pays homage to “unsung heroes” in the Black community and has recognized more than 130 citizens since its inception.

Nominees must be age 60 or older, have resided in the Middle Tennessee area for 25 years or more and have made outstanding contributions to their community in one of five distinct categories.

Dr. Sidney A. McPhee, MTSU president

Dr. Sidney A. McPhee

“These are individuals that don’t make the front page of the newspaper,” said Dr. Sidney A. McPhee, university president, in welcoming the capacity crowd in attendance.

“These are individuals that don’t seek attention on television and in other ways just to focus on themselves. They do God’s work.”

This year’s honorees are:

• Elma McKnight, a retired educator in the Murfreesboro City Schools, recognized for her service to education.

• Thomas Keith, an MTSU alumnus and a longtime track and field coach, recognized for his excellence in sports.

• Carl E. Watkins, a retired Murfreesboro Police captain and longtime youth volunteer, recognized as an advocate of civility.

• Melbra Simmons, the media office coordinator for MTSU’s True Blue TV and a committee member for the annual Tennessee Girls in STEM Conference, recognized for her community service.

Robert Orr Jr., a Murfreesboro artist, recognized for his commitment to Black arts.

Featured speaker Dr. Sekou Franklin, an associate professor in the Department of Political Science and International Relations, called the community leaders “living testaments that provide examples of a world that we want to be in and offer the inspiration for moving forward.”

Sekou Franklin, an associate professor in the Department of Political Science and International Relations, delivers the featured address at the 26th annual Unity Luncheon Feb. 10 in MTSU's Student Union. (MTSU photo by J. Intintoli)

Dr. Sekou Franklin, an associate professor in the Department of Political Science and International Relations at MTSU, delivers the featured address at the 26th annual Unity Luncheon Feb. 10 in the university’s Student Union. (MTSU photo by J. Intintoli)

In describing the importance of heeding the wisdom of our elders in creating a “community of solidarity,” Franklin listed a number of contemporary challenges for today’s generation. These included threats to voting rights, literary freedom, the criminal justice system and education.

“As calls for diversity and racial justice increase, there will be an adverse reaction to those events,” Franklin said. “There is no better time to speak truth to power than right now.”

The theme of this year’s Black History Month celebration is “Black Love: Health, Wellness, Relationships.”

For more information about upcoming events, go to https://mtsu.edu/aahm/calendar.php.

— Gina K. Logue (gina.logue@mtsu.edu)

Brelinda Johnson, manager of the MTSU Scholars Academy, received the "Unsung Staff Award" Feb. 10 at the 26th annual Unity Luncheon. Congratulating her is MTSU President Sidney A. McPhee. (MTSU photo by J. Intintoli)

Brelinda Johnson, manager of the MTSU Scholars Academy, accepts the “Unsung Staff Award” from university President Sidney A. McPhee Feb. 10 at the 26th annual Unity Luncheon. (MTSU photo by J. Intintoli)

Melbra Simmons, left, accepts congratulations for winning the award for Community Service at the 26th annual Unity Luncheon Feb. 10 in MTSU's Student Union. Simmons was one of five "unsung heroes" lauded for their lifelong contributions to the Black community. (MTSU photo by J. Intintoli)

Melbra Simmons, left, accepts congratulations for winning the award for community service at the 26th annual Unity Luncheon Feb. 10 in MTSU’s Student Union. Simmons was one of five “unsung heroes” lauded for their lifelong contributions to the Black community. (MTSU photo by J. Intintoli)


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