With the theme of “Dangerous Unselfishness,” George Mason University hosted its annual MLK Evening of Reflection and awards ceremony on Tuesday, Feb. 15. The event honors the memory of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and recognizes members of the Mason community who actively live out his vision.
“What makes the Spirit of King Awards unique is that these awards are given to students, alumni, and professional members of our community that do the active work of social justice not in performative ways, but in ways that are authentic and unapologetically transformative to the lives they touch,” said Hamal Strayhorn, director of the Center for Culture, Equity, and Empowerment at Mason.
The event was presented in a hybrid format in the Hub Ballroom and livestreamed on GMU-TV.
The theme comes from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “Mountaintop speech” delivered in support of the striking sanitation workers at Mason Temple in Memphis, Tennessee, on April 3, 1968—the day before he was assassinated. King said: “Be concerned about your brother. You may not be on strike but either we go up together or we go down together. Let us develop a kind of dangerous unselfishness.”
Strayhorn said the MLK Commemoration Committee wanted a theme that speaks to current events and connects a younger generation to past social movements for equity and justice.
“We wanted to awaken the fire within this generation to actively participate in the work to dismantle racism and structures of hierarchy of human value,” Strayhorn said.
As part of the event, a panel discussion, led by Jamie R. Riley, NAACP's national director of race and justice, examined how leaders are fulfilling the theme of being “dangerously unselfish” in teaching a new generation to understand the work of social justice, to address moving beyond performative ally-ship to being a co-conspirator, and ultimately looking beyond self-preservation for the preservation of others.
Speakers included Whitney Bunts, policy analyst, youth policy, Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP); Payton Head, DEI strategist; and Derrick Lewis, national director, youth and college, NAACP.
Riley shared three questions to live by: Who am I? What do I believe? Why do I believe it? He asked attendees to then spend time in that uncomfortable space to reflect and be honest with themselves and then be willing to make appropriate adjustments to live in “dangerous unselfishness.”
“The panelists challenged us, in their individual ways, to reflect deeply on our own commitment to creating positive change toward collective liberation,” said Creston C. Lynch, assistant vice president, University Life. “They challenged us to be courageous, bold, and aspirational.”
“I was inspired by the collecting energy, and passion from the people in the room,” said Lynch, “from the incredible panelists to the students who asked such challenging, but important questions, and on to the award recipients and nominees who are doing so much meaningful work at Mason and beyond.
“It was an honor to be in the room with so many change makers,” Lynch added.
These awards were presented to those engaged in activism to improve our community:
Spirit of King Award (undergraduate student): Corwin Matthews, Global Affairs.
Spirit of King Award (graduate student): Shauna Rigaud Matthews, Cultural Studies.
Spirit of King Award (staff): Saskia Campbell, Executive Director, University Career Services.
Spirit of King Award (faculty): David Corwin, Term Instructor, Associate Director for Academic Affairs, Women and Gender Studies.
Emerging Alumni Award: Tauheeda Martin-Yasin, Cultural Studies.
Superior Service Award: George Mason NAACP.
Yara Mowafy Award (undergraduate student): Fiona Klotz, Integrative Studies.
Yara Mowafy Award (graduate student): Ayondela McDole, Cultural Studies.