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Greensboro celebrates MLK Jr. Day 2023


“Champion is something that we can be, but also something that we can do,” said Niketa Greene, Cone Health’s Chief Inclusion Officer at this year’s citywide Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day Breakfast.

“Dr. King set a tremendous example of being a champion of human rights. We still must fully recognize King’s dream today. What does it look like when we are being champions,” she added.

Greene served as the keynote speaker for the annual breakfast sponsored by the Greensboro Human Rights Commission. It was held at the Koury Convention Center. Attendees enjoyed a catered breakfast, an awards ceremony, musical selections from the James B. Dudley High School chorus, a poetry performance by Sanjita Suryadevara of The Poetry Project and remarks from city and community leaders.

The former Vice President of Leadership, Diversity & Inclusion at the Greensboro Chamber of Commerce, Greene holds a bachelor’s degree from North Carolina A&T State University and a Master of Public Administration degree from North Carolina Central University (Durham). She shared that it was her years spent in Greensboro that helped lead her towards a career in leadership and diversity. She currently sits on the boards of the United Way of Greater Greensboro (UWGG) and North Carolina for Community and Justice (NCCJ).

Greene noted that her grandmother was her earliest influence in being a champion for civil and human rights, and from an early age, she was introduced to the work of civil rights organizations like the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People) and the SCLC (Southern Christian Leadership Conference).

“There is no doubt that what Dr. King gave then still ripples through today. It’s still useful to us today. Greensboro is a special place, and we all benefit from its diversity. We have a rich history of revolution in Greensboro. I’m here to encourage you that we can all be champions today,” she said.

Keeping in line with this year’s breakfast theme, “Every Day Champions: Honoring Local Human Rights Pioneers,” Greene encouraged attendees to “use what you have, what you do, and what you know, to be a champion in your community.”

“The power of champions is that they are unrelenting. Champions have the power to ignite the flame in others. Champions are self-starters. Champions often wield their power to show people grace under fire. Champions have the power to make people feel seen and heard. We can all agree that Dr. King did something significant. I hope we will use the inspiration of Dr. King to tap into that within us,” she said.

The inaugural class of the Every Day Champions of Civil Rights Award were recognized. The Human Rights Commission collected nominee submissions in December and ultimately awarded five people based on their contributions in furthering Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s vision, civil rights, civil liberties, and/or human rights in Greensboro.

Award recipients were Guilford County Commissioner Melvin “Skip” Alston; Guilford County Board of Education District 1 representative T. Dianne Bellamy-Small; Vice President of the Greensboro Chamber of Commerce’s Other Voices Diversity Leadership Program, Joyce Gorham-Worsley; Greensboro educator and community activist James Shields, and the late Rev. Dr. T. Anthony Spearman, former president of the North Carolina NAACP.

The City of Greensboro’s Morningside Awards 2022 recipients were also recognized. Created in 2020, the award is given annually, as affirmed by the City Council, to five graduates of James B. Dudley High School in memory of Cesar Cauce, Dr. Michael Nathan, William Evan Sampson, Sandra Neely Smith, and Dr. James Waller, whose lives were claimed tragically in the Greensboro Massacre of 1979. The awards commemorate the lives of those lost, who left a legacy of standing for justice and equality.

The $1,979 award will be granted to the students at the completion of their K-12 education. Award recipients are selected based on their commitment to advance social justice and equality through future academic goals, employment goals and entrepreneurial goals. The application process is now open for 2023 and are only open to seniors enrolled at Dudley High School. The 2023 application is due by April 15 and winners will be announced on June 1.

“It’s important to continue to inspire the next generation. Fall out of love with what’s popular and fall in love with what’s right. I encourage you to think about what is my thing that I will fall in love with that may not be popular, but will be what’s right,” said Dr. Love Jones, Director of the City of Greensboro Human Rights Department.

Later in the afternoon, a diverse collection of local elected officials, faith leaders and community members gathered to experience an interfaith worship service at St. James Presbyterian Church. The annual interfaith worship service included remarks from religious and elected leaders, a liturgical dance from the church’s Worshippers of Praise dance team and musical selections from the church’s choir, New Generation Praise Team.

“We have survived another year, yet we have failed to overcome politics, homelessness, racism, hatred and injustice,” said NC District 28 Sen. Gladys Robinson. “How long will you, the people, continue to allow the threat of injustice? You and I must have a true revolution. Let this be our call to step forward.”

Rev. Daran Mitchell, lead pastor of Trinity A.M.E. Zion Church delivered Monday’s sermon as the featured guest speaker. He referred to the scripture 2 Kings: 5-14 to lead his sermon, focusing on the story of Naamon, a man who suffered from leprosy. Rev. Mitchell used this story to illustrate how divine power flows through humble channels rather than through the money and power that humans hold in such high regard.

“The reason why we celebrate Dr. King is because he could not be bought by the establishment. This story teaches us the sparkle isn’t where the spiritual lives,” said Mitchell.

He encouraged people to continue to show up to do the social justice work because that is the only way to bring change.

“It’s easy to show up for MLK Day and smile for the cameras, but what is God really calling us to do? Social justice can change things. We need courageous people of good will to do the work,” he said.