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
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
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
"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
"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.
"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
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
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.