Martin Luther King MLK Scholarship Tammie Brown-Edwards, DeShon Gavin first recipients

 MACOMB, Ill. - On the day of the celebration of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Western Illinois Athletics and the WIU Multicultural Center proudly announced Tammie Brown-Edwards and DeShon Gavin as the first recipients of the MLK Scholarship.

Martin- Luther- King- MLK- Scholarship- Tammie Brown-Edwards, DeShon -Gavin- first- recipients
Martin- Luther- King- MLK- Scholarship- Tammie Brown-Edwards, DeShon -Gavin- first- recipients

The MLK Service Scholarship recognizes two Western Illinois students, one student-athlete (Gavin) and one non-student-athlete (Brown-Edwards), who embody and exemplify the characteristics promoted by Dr. King - a vision of peace, persistence in purpose, inspirational action, and sportsmanship. Brown-Edwards and Gavin will each receive a one-time, non-renewable $500 scholarship in the spring of 2021.

Nominees were asked to write a one-page statement, answering the question, "How has Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. inspired you?" Brown-Edwards' impactful letter is below.

For four generations, a photo of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. has been on the walls of my family's homes. He has long been a source of inspiration and an active role model to my family. In the fall of 1965, my great-grandparents Rosie Lee and Horace McLemore paid $1 each for the right to vote in St. Francis Co., Arkansas. The previous year, three civil rights workers who tried to register Black voters in the South were slain in June. By the beginning of 1965, Dr. King was arrested in Selma, Ala., during a voting rights demonstration. A month later voting rights demonstrators were beaten by state highway patrolmen and sheriff's deputies on the Edmund Pettus Bridge. On Aug. 6, President Johnson signed the 1965 Voting Rights Act where Dr. King was present at the signing. The signing of the Act and the fact that Dr. King was instrumental in this initiative was impactful for my great-grandparents because less than two weeks later, on Aug. 17, 1965 the two of them bravely went into the St. Francis courthouse, and paid the $2 poll tax for the right to vote in Arkansas.

A generation later, my grandmother assisted in organizing and matching riders with drivers for Black families in her community to get to the polls. It was my grandmother's commitment to voting and her enthusiasm for others to vote was passed down to my mother. By the time I was old enough to read, my mother made an effort for me to know the legacy of Dr. King. We have been inside Dr. King's boyhood home in Atlanta, sat in the pews of his Ebenezer Baptist Church, placed my hands on a replicated Woolworth lunch counter, sat in the back of a decommissioned bus from the Montgomery Bus Boycott, felt the undeniable energy in his room at the Lorraine Motel, and stood solemnly in the shadow of his monument on the National Mall. Dr. King has inspired my family for four generations.

I am fortunate and thankful that my family has educated me about Dr. King beyond what I learned in elementary school. Reading Dr. King's speeches, letters from the Birmingham jail, empathizing with his passion regarding the Poor People's Campaign, listening to him speak to striking sanitation workers, knowing about his relationship with fellow civil rights leaders, and identifying with his interpersonal spiritual journey all speak to my own personal growth as a community leader and activist. Dr. King has taught me that people's work is a 24-hour job; that hours and days away from your family, constantly educating yourself on systemic racism, speaking truth to power, and writing regularly to be an advocate in supporting the cause is all a part of the journey.

I moved to Macomb nearly 20 years ago to become the news editor of the local newspaper. Within my first months in Macomb, I laid the groundwork to establishing Macomb's first Juneteenth celebration, organized the first free school supply giveaway in the city, partnered with a Chicago youth agency to establish a youth mentoring program for underrepresented students in Macomb High School (at the time there were no identifying clubs in the school district) and encouraged the Macomb Ministerial Alliance to allow clergy of other faiths to join their organization. I didn't know anything about the culture of Macomb, it's rich and diverse history or if my ideas would be welcomed, but I did know that I wanted to live in a town that was outwardly welcoming and inclusive. And if I had to be the catalyst of making it happen, so be it. I encountered a lot of push back over the years to the point I was discouraged and uninspired, but I continued doing the work in different forms.

For several years, I have been an active member of the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Macomb where I currently serve on the Board of Trustees. As a board member, I have created several initiatives which included a free clothing closet for the community, approving a free community garden to be planted on the property, openly displaying signs of inclusivity, diversity and justice in front and on the building, and during the nation's "Muslim band" we stood in front of the local mosque with signs of love and welcoming messages to let our Islamic friends know we would stand in the gap for them (ultimately, we were invited inside to a thank you potluck the members put on for us as a measure of thanks).

Within the first hour of my daily routine, I am drafting emails, creating social media posts or reading news articles to research what I can do that day to make life better for someone else in the promotion of social and racial justice. As a leader in my community, I initiated city resolutions condemning hate speech and symbols of hate, made the police complaint form more accessible for citizens, created more transparency on the police social media pages and website, advocated that city officials be provided with emails and business cards to better network with their constituents, organized a community mural project, provided community discussions on non-violent communication, attend numerous racial and social justice workshops, partnered with state legislative officials involving community projects, working with the Dr. Rev. C.T. Vivian and his family to create a youth and family support program for People of Color in Macomb, located the homestead of the Vivian family and made efforts to create a historical marker for the property and work with local residents to complete Freedom of Information Act forms to obtain police reports, and help resolve others community issues. Dr. King's life's work is ever-present in my daily life and is often the fuel for my motivation.

It is my hope I will receive The MLK Service Scholarship to help me continue to create other worthwhile social and racial justice initiatives on campus and in the community to improve the lives of others.

Gavin is a sophomore on the Western Illinois football team, but he is more than just an athlete.

In the fall semester, Gavin organized March to Vote, a highly-successful rally that encouraged young adults to engage in national, state, and local elections. Students from the general and athlete population marched through campus to raise awareness before the day ended with a voter registration drive in partnership with the League of Women Voters of McDonough County.

DeShon is also an active member of several campus organizations - the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee, where he serves on the civic engagement committee, and Rockython, where he was named an executive member for recruitment. He is also a charter member of the newly-formed Black Athlete Association, a student group that intends to promote and further the values of inclusivity, diversity, and social justice on the campus of Western Illinois University, the surrounding Macomb community, and beyond.

"Martin Luther King Jr. inspires me not only by being a man of God but also a black man trying to create change in the most challenging times," said Gavin. "He inspires me to continue fighting for not only our generation but the next generation as well."

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