Johns Hopkins Gazette | January 12, 2009
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The newspaper of The Johns Hopkins University January 12, 2009 | Vol. 38 No. 17
MLK Jr. Commemoration Trumpets Historic Election

Elijah Cummings

Congressman, actress to reflect upon King's dream, Obama's victory

By Greg Rienzi
The Gazette

On the eve of the inauguration of the nation's first African-American president, Johns Hopkins will host its 2009 tribute to a civil rights leader who asked a generation of Americans to believe in a dream.

U.S. Rep. Elijah Cummings and Emmy Award-winning actress Lynn Whitfield will be the featured speakers at the 27th annual Martin Luther King Jr. Commemoration, which will include a special video salute to President-elect Barack Obama and the 2008 election, interspersed with images of King.

Begun in 1982, the Johns Hopkins Martin Luther King Jr. Commemoration honors the Nobel Peace Prize winner's legacy of nonviolent activism and community service. This year's event will take place from noon to 1:30 p.m. on Friday, Jan. 16, in Turner Auditorium on the East Baltimore campus and will be broadcast to several other university and health system locations.

Levi Watkins, founder of the Martin Luther King Jr. Commemoration Celebration and chair of its committee, said that with the Obama inauguration happening just the day after the national observance of Rev. King's birthday, this year's event holds special significance.

"During the presidential election, many powerful and beautiful images of diversity and inclusion emerged," Watkins said, "and certain parts of Dr. King's dream were realized. I'm talking about his want for people to judge you by the content of your character, not the color of your skin. To have Obama elected is an incredible thing to me personally, and also to our nation. I'm sure Dr. King and [his wife] Coretta are smiling."

In reference to this year's speakers, Watkins said he once again targeted people whose lives have reflected contributions to King's dream and hopes for the future.

"I asked them both to talk about the generation of hope and progress that stands before us, and where do we go from here," he said.

Cummings, born and raised in Baltimore, has dedicated his life to service lifting up and empowering the people he is sworn to represent. Cummings' career in public service began in 1976, when the attorney was elected to the Maryland House of Delegates. During his 16-year tenure in Annapolis, Cummings became the first African-American to serve as speaker pro tem, the House's second-highest-ranking post. He was elected to Congress in 1996 and is serving his seventh term.

A former chair of the Congressional Black Caucus, Cummings is a senior member of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. He has sponsored initiatives on homeland security and increased access to quality education and affordable health care. Most recently he worked on economic issues involving the credit, banking and automakers' crises. An early supporter of Obama's presidential run, Cummings co-chaired the Illinois senator's Maryland campaign.

Lynn Whitfield

"Elijah has had an incredible career of public service," Watkins said. "One of the things I've always liked about him is that he never shies away from the vestiges of the nightmare aspects of prejudice and inequality. He's always been there contributing to diversity and progress."

Born in Baton Rouge, La., Lynn Whitfield set her sights at an early age on the acting profession. Along the way, she earned a degree in fine arts from Howard University and studied with a black theater company in Washington, D.C.

A star of the big and small screens, Whitfield has taken on many roles that trace the roots of the black experience.

"The theme throughout her career has been improving the images of women of color in film," Watkins said. "I have no doubt that Michelle Obama will also do incredible things for women of color, just as Lynn has done. She is a beautiful woman, inside and out."

Whitfield is perhaps best-known for her portrayal of a legendary performer and civil rights activist in The Josephine Baker Story. Her memorable movie performances include A Thin Line Between Love and Hate, with comedian Martin Lawrence; Eve's Bayou, in which she played the matriarch of a socially prominent family in Louisiana; and the ABC miniseries The Wedding, executive-produced by Oprah Winfrey.

In 2006, she appeared in Tyler Perry's Madea's Family Reunion and will be seen in the upcoming film Mama, I Want to Sing, a remake of a long-running off-Broadway play on the life of an R&B singer. Whitfield is also venturing into new roles as a producer and as a model with her daughter, Grace, an aspiring actress and dancer, with whom she lives in New York City.

Cummings and Whitfield join an impressive list of past speakers that includes Maya Angelou, Harry Belafonte Jr., the Rev. Ralph Abernathy, James Earl Jones, Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton, Danny Glover, Rosa Parks and Coretta Scott King.

Recipients of Martin Luther King Jr. Community Service Awards are, clockwise from left, Salman Mohammed, Courtney "Rory" Goodwin, Frances Harris, Kennard Pugh, Sara Jayne, Lisa Elliott, Beatrice Robbins and Regina Boyce.
Photo by Keith Weller

Friday's celebration will include the 17th annual Martin Luther King Jr. Community Service Awards ceremony, in which eight Johns Hopkins employees will be honored for demonstrating through community service the spirit of volunteerism and citizenship that characterized King's life.

Being recognized from the university are Regina Boyce, office manager at the Ralph S. O'Connor Recreation Center; Salman Mohammed, a senior psychology major; Courtney "Rory" Goodwin, a first-year medical student; and Frances Harris, an administrative assistant in General Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine. Health system honorees are Lisa Elliott, a database administrator at The Johns Hopkins Hospital; Sara Jayne, a pharmacy claims coordinator at Johns Hopkins HealthCare; Kennard Pugh, a cook at JHH; and Beatrice Robbins, a nurse manager at Bayview Medical Center.

The Unified Voices Choir, a gospel group whose ranks include both Johns Hopkins staff and community members, will provide musical entertainment beginning at 11:30 a.m.

Those unable to attend can view the event on closed-circuit television in the Glass Pavilion on the Homewood campus; Hurd Hall, Tilghman Auditorium or on JHH Patient Channel 54 on the East Baltimore campus; the Asthma and Allergy Auditorium at Bayview; 3200 Davis Hall at Mount Washington; rooms 1S-201 and 7-257 at the Applied Physics Laboratory; or the third-floor conference room at 901 S. Bond St. in Fells Point.


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