ESU Announces Fifteenth Annual Martin Luther King Jr. Breakfast and Keynote Speaker/Calls for Award Nominations

Tickets for the Fifteenth Annual Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Celebration Breakfast at East Stroudsburg University will go on sale at ESU’s Henry A. Ahnert Alumni Center beginning Tuesday, November 8, 2011.  The breakfast is scheduled for Monday, January 16, 2011, from 8:00 a.m. to 10:00 a.m. in the Keystone Room on campus.  The cost of the breakfast is $30 per person, $8 for ESU students, with proceeds to benefit the Gertrude Mary Smith Boddie Scholarship Fund, which provides financial assistance to undergraduate students of color at ESU.  In 1904 Ms. Boddie was the first African-American student to graduate from what was then known as East Stroudsburg State Normal School and ultimately became East Stroudsburg University in 1983.

Two Boddie Scholarship recipients will be announced at the breakfast. Each of the scholarships will be in the amount of $2,540.00, applicable to the spring 2012 semester.  Scholarship recipients are selected based on the criteria of evidence of community service or university involvement, a commitment to Dr. King’s philosophy of non-violence, equality, justice, cultural diversity, and a respect for humanity.

Nominations for MLK Awards Now Being Requested

In addition to the student scholarships, nominations are now being accepted for the two Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Awards, which will also be presented at the event. Nominees for the awards should exemplify two or more aspects of Dr. King’s philosophy of non-violence, equality, justice, cultural diversity, and respect for humanity.

One of the awards will be presented to a member of the university community and one to a member of the community-at-large.  ESU candidates must be currently employed by the university as a member of the faculty, staff, or administration, or be currently enrolled as a student for at least two full-time semesters with a minimum grade point average of 2.5.  Candidates from the community must be current residents who are active in the local community. All nominations must include a short biography of the candidate and three letters of recommendation.  Nomination forms are available by contacting ESU’s Office of Diversity and Equal Opportunity at (570) 422-3656.  The deadline for submissions is Friday, December 2, 2011.

The Julianna V. Bolt Art Contest will also be part of the breakfast celebration.  Students from all high schools within Monroe County are encouraged to participate and all entries will be displayed at the event.  Local high school art departments have been notified of the criteria for participation and the deadline for entries is Friday, December 2, 2011.  Submissions should represent some aspect of Dr. King’s life and his philosophy of non-violence, peace, justice and equality.  For more information contact Martin Lacayo , coordinator for multicultural affairs, at (570) 422-3896 or e-mail at

Keynote Speaker

The keynote speaker for this year’s breakfast will be retired Air Force Lieutenant Colonel, Mrs. Raylawni G. A. Branch.  She will deliver her unique perspective on how

Dr. King’s philosophy continues to be influential today in light of the event’s theme, “Peace is not merely a distant goal that we seek, but a means by which we arrive at that goal.”  She will also discuss her personal memories of Dr. King.

Mrs. Raylawni Branch was born in Hattiesburg, Miss., in 1941, in “the Bottoms.” She was the eldest of ten children.  She was raised in Hattiesburg, Prentiss, and Mount Carmel, Miss., and in Chicago, Ill.  By the time she graduated from the eighth grade, she had moved eleven times and been in eight schools. Branch attended Royal Street High School and graduated in 1959, after the school became Rowan High School. After graduation, she married and had three children.

The NAACP’s offer to pay the twenty-four-year-old Branch’s tuition to the University of Southern Mississippi (USM) in exchange for her accompanying a younger African-American woman to school seemed like a dream come true to Branch.  In 1965, Branch and Elaine Armstrong were the first African-American students at USM. Branch enrolled in pre-med and got a work-study job.  The two women attended classes accompanied by six bodyguards.

Family problems and financial difficulties made it impossible for Branch to continue attending USM, and she withdrew after one year.  Later she attended St. John’s University, Jamaica, N.Y.  She returned to USM in 1988 and began working on a master’s degree in community health nursing with a minor in education.

In addition to her role in integrating USM, Branch has been active in numerous other aspects of the struggle for civil rights movement.  She served as secretary of the local chapter of the NAACP; was a member of the Council for Federated Organizations, Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, and Southern Christian Leadership Conference; and attended the March on Washington .  She was the first African-American to be hired at the Big Yank factory and the telephone company to a position other than that of housekeeping personnel. She integrated the Greyhound and Trailways bus stations.

After leaving USM, Branch participated in the anti-Vietnam War movement and the storming of the Pentagon. She describes herself more as staying “open and active in a personal way.”

 Branch has been married to her husband Alfred for twenty-five years. The couple lives in Hattiesburg , Miss.

Commemorative Pin, Sponsorship Opportunities Available

A commemorative limited edition Liztech pin featuring the theme, “ Celebrating Dr. King,” is still available, in limited quantities. The cost of each pin is $40 with proceeds to benefit the Gertrude Mary Smith Boddie scholarship fund.

Table sponsorships for this event are also available. For more information about the commemorative pins, ticket sales or sponsorship opportunities, please contact the ESU Foundation office at (570) 422-3533.

For more information about the breakfast or for special accommodations, contact ESU’s Office of Diversity and Equal Opportunity at (570) 422-3656.