Bobcats recognized for their work toward a more just world

February 21, 2023

Photo of recipients of the MLK dream award

The university will recognize members of the Bobcat family who are working together to make the world a more equitable place.

“The inaugural MLK Dream Awards were established to honor the memory and legacy of Dr. Martin L. King Jr. and his commitment to justice,” said Don Sawyer, vice president for equity, inclusion, and leadership development. “The award recognizes one student, one staff, one faculty and one alumnus who have demonstrated outstanding commitment to creating a more just and equitable world."

Faculty, staff, students and alumni can nominate an individual for the award which will be given out annually during MLK Dream week in February. This year, the event will take place at On the Rocks Pub and Grill in the Rocky Top Student Center on February 25 from 4 to 6 p.m. It is open to the public.

The recipients include Marilyn Ford, professor of law; William Jellison, professor of psychology and women's & gender studies; Khalilah Brown-Dean, associate provost for faculty affairs; Emily Diaz ’24; and Mercy Quaye ’13, MS ’18.

“I hope the recipients will be reminded that their work matters and makes a difference in our communities,” said Sawyer. “I hope their work inspires others to get involved and find ways to build community and support justice efforts.”

Ford will be recognized for her decades-long commitment to social justice; Jellison for his tireless dedication to and support of the LGBTQ+ community; Brown-Dean for her commitment to justice, voting rights and legislation improving the lives of incarcerated people; Diaz for her drive as a student in making Quinnipiac a better place; and Quaye for her community-centered vision of changing the narrative related to the importance of diversity, equity and inclusion in media.

This showcased passion was sparked by lived experiences, empowering each recipient to become a thought leader of change.

“My passion for fighting for equity and social justice was fueled by the racism, inequity, oppression and injustice I witnessed as a child growing up during the Black civil rights movement,” said Ford. “Blacks were fighting against racism and struggling to attain equal educational opportunities, economic rights, equality and social justice in America. I both watched and participated in protests and challenges against segregation laws, policies and practices to dismantle Jim Crow and to overturn the Supreme Court decision in Plessy v. Ferguson, the case that sanctioned racial segregation in American society.”

Jellison described the injustice he witnessed in college as well as in his professional journey.

“When I was an undergraduate and even into my professional career, I did not see LGBTQ+ experiences represented in the university curriculum,” said Jellison. “More recently, we have seen restrictions on incorporating LGBTQ+ content in the curriculum in middle schools and high schools; and books dealing with gender or sexual identity being banned. So, now it is even more imperative to offer university courses addressing the experiences of LGBTQ+ individuals and to maintain student groups like the Gender-Sexuality Alliance and the Unity (LGBTQ+) LLC.”

Brown-Dean fights for inclusion and justice through her efforts as an advocate for the community both locally and abroad. 

“In the United States, one in three adults has a criminal conviction,” said Brown-Dean. “That means incarceration in the United States affects millions of people beyond the nearly 2.3 million currently behind bars. I believe we are all entitled to live in communities that are healthy, vibrant and connected. That requires examining the legal, economic and political factors that create generational barriers to inclusion. I fight for an inclusive vision of democracy that blends individual responsibility with institutional accountability.”

Diaz has harnessed the idea of individual responsibility that Brown-Dean mentions to find solutions for marginalized communities within the Quinnipiac community.

“I want to constantly remind my peers that this journey is yours, we are all people, with families, who love and are chasing our dreams,” said Diaz. “We can't forget that as we are on this journey of learning about the world around us we must give grace to ourselves and the people around us, peace doesn’t just happen we have to make it, without being the people that we are, empowering people to be who they are, how can we become a world where we can all feel like our best selves at all times? Advocacy and activism look different for everyone, talk to everyone, listen to everyone, and be present always, there is nothing too small. Do not be discouraged by the little things, I want to remind you that Black History Month started in schools, in education and by the powerful work of students who kept fighting for change. We now dedicate a month to celebrating the legacy of the hard work Black minds have done for our world.”

Quaye has lived the words of Diaz, advocating for the importance of diversity, equity and inclusion in media, guiding her clients toward a more inclusive mindset.

Although all nominees recognize the need for systematic change, they agree that no act is too small to make a difference.

“I believe that everyone can take action every day to call out injustice everywhere and join organizations that advocate for civil rights, justice, empathy, civility, understanding, love and inclusion of all people in American society,” said Ford.

Brown-Dean reflects upon this further and recognizes how overwhelming it can be to find a place to start.

“My advice is to start where you are,” said Brown-Dean. “It's easy to get overwhelmed by the uncertainty and sheer magnitude of possibility. Choose to be encouraged by that possibility. Choose to live a life of purpose that affirms our collective humanity. Start where you are.” 

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