Annual MLK Celebration Draws Record Crowds

McCorquodale with her winning artwork. Photo Credit / Lance Soodeen McCorquodale with her winning artwork. Photo Credit / Lance Soodeen
McCorquodale with her winning artwork. Photo Credit / Lance Soodeen
McCorquodale with her winning artwork.
Photo Credit / Lance Soodeen

By Kathleen Kraemer

“I am happy to join with you today in what will go down in history as the greatest demonstration for freedom in the history of our nation,” boomed Jonathan Edmondson, echoing the words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to the crowd gathered on the morning of Jan. 18 at Mattioli Recreation Center.

The record-breaking crowd of nearly 400 students, faculty, staff and community members had gathered at ESU in celebration of King’s 87th birthday and the 19th Annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. (MLK) Celebration Breakfast.

The MLK Celebration Breakfast is held every year to honor King and award individuals who embody his principles and beliefs.

One individual who reflects those beliefs is ESU senior Stephon Seawright. During the event, Seawright performed his spoken word poem “I am a Black Man.”

“We are tired of being seen differently,” recited Seawright. “We are tired of being singled out…..Most of all, we are tired of living in a world that tries to make us ashamed of the color of our skin. We are not ashamed of the color of our skin. We are triumphant in its beauty.”

“Yes, I am a black man,” Seawright concluded, “and I am proud of it.”

Seawright’s performance was met with goosebumps and a standing ovation as he introduced the keynote speaker, Joetta Clark Diggs.

Diggs is a four-time Olympian with a 24-year long career as a half-mile runner. She has also become known for her contributions as an author, motivational speaker, businesswoman, and activist for childhood health and fitness.

Her nonprofit organization, The Joetta Clark Diggs Sports Foundation, works with students in grades k-12 to inform them of nutrition, health and obesity.

Diggs said she was honored to be invited to speak at the breakfast.

“I grew up in that time period,” she explained. “It left a definite imprint in my mind seeing him and hearing him speak. I was able to see and touch and feel and be a part of someone who had hope and was change.”

The crowd laughed and cheered as Diggs spoke of patience, perseverance and optimism.

Diggs emphasized the importance of action, encouraging the crowd to “put some work to those words” and to “have a purpose.”

On the topic of patience, Diggs explained that we should never stop trying.

“What lies behind us and what lies before us [are] tiny matters compared to what lies within you,” she said.

Following Diggs’ speech, Clavertis Miller took the stage to recognize the winners of the Gertrude Mary Smith Boddie Scholarship.

In 1904, Boddie was the first African American student to graduate from East Stroudsburg State Normal School, now known as ESU.

Boddie’s scholarship is awarded to three individuals every year.

This year’s winners were Janet Sue Jin Ro, junior nursing major; Layla Irby, sophomore hotel restaurant and tourism management and Spanish major; and Shaneequah Saraiyah Monique Zigler, junior social work major.

The next award presented was the Julianna V. Bolt Art Award. Bolt became an accountant for the East Stroudsburg University Foundation in 1994, and quickly developed a love for the school. Unfortunately, Bolt was stricken with Multiple Sclerosis.

This memorial scholarship is an art contest with three winners. The first-place artwork is used the following year for the cover of the MLK Breakfast Celebration program.

There were 60 submissions for the art award this year. First place winner was Kirsten McCorquodale, a student at Stroudsburg High School. Ellis Rowland, also a Stroudsburg student, placed second. Rachel Bezenyon of Pleasant Valley followed in third.

The final award of the morning was the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. (MLK) Award. This award recognizes individuals who “exemplify Dr. King’s philosophy of non-violence, equality, justice, cultural diversity and respect for humanity.”

The MLK Award is given to four individuals: One ESU student, one staff member, one faculty member and one member of the community.

“It is still very surreal [to have won],” said Drew Johnson, Student Senate president and winner of the student MLK Award.

“I have a knack for helping others and speaking up for those who feel silenced. As I reflect, I would be remiss if I didn’t associate Dr. King with those traits. He, along with a few other prominent black public figures (looking at you Obama), provided me with a toolkit that is proven to positively influence the masses.”

“There is room for you to make a difference here it’s simply a matter of how much work you put in.” said Johnson, echoing the sentiments of both King and Diggs.

Sharone Glasco, director of workforce development at ESU, received the staff award. Dr. Alberto Cardelle, dean of the College of Health Sciences was awarded the faculty award. Sharon Laverdure, East Stroudsburg Area School District Superintendent, received the community member MLK Award.

The morning concluded with a performance by ESU’s Voices of Triumph Praise Team.

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