Emma Polen | Editor-in-Chief
“I want you to say that I tried to love and serve humanity…say that I was a drum major for justice.” – Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., 1968
MLK Day is the only federal holiday designated as a day of service. In celebration, the Allegheny County Bar Association has hosted its annual Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Prayer Breakfast and Program for 25 years, welcoming a number of community members who have completed meaningful service for underprivileged communities.
Highlighted during the event is the Allegheny Bar Association’s Drum Major for Justice award, which honors an individual from the area who has impacted the community with meaningful and actionable service.
This year’s awardee was Jerry Dickinson, Vice Dean at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law.
Dickinson’s parents fostered 11 children and became a “long term home for eight of the 11 children, including me,” he said.
Jesse Exilus, of the Allegheny County Bar Association’s Homer S. Brown Division, spoke highly of Dickinson, who he nominated for the Drum Major of Justice award.
“You can … see the passion in his eyes that he’s here to do great work to make sure everyone is not only equitable … making sure that we have what we need to be successful in our life.”
“He’s definitely worthy to be honored today,” said Mayor Ed Gainey, adding that Dickinson has done a lot in the judicial system.
Gainey was also adamant about the mission of “uplifting the world” with his own background as a servant in the community, breaking down “all the -isms, all the classes and all the racism,” he said to The Duke.
“Every time we pour ourselves into the city and other people, we demonstrate the love of humanity,” Gainey said during his opening remarks at the event.
Every year, the Homer S. Brown Division of the Allegheny County Bar Association invites its members to the breakfast inspired by MLK’s legacy.
Gabrielle Lee, assistant federal public defender and chair of the Allegheny Bar Association’s Homer S. Brown Division 2023-2024 Council, is determined to grow in this equitable vision.
The breakfast is always hosted in the Hill District, but this year, for the first time, the Bethel AME church offered a greater venue space to gather more people, Lee said, to “interact and engage with …our communities.”
Criminal defense work, Lee’s specialty, is one of the many ways people can wake up every day and serve our communities, Lee said.
Duquesne also took up a significant number of chairs with members of the men’s and women’s basketball teams
“We’re representative of Duquesne and…the city of Pittsburgh,” Women’s Basketball Head Coach Dan Burt said. In addition to the MLK breakfast, the women’s team visits the Hill District regularly to volunteer at a community nonprofit.
With Duquesne students off from school on Monday, MLK Day, Ayanna Townsend, fourth-year occupational therapy student and member of the women’s basketball team said the event was a great opportunity to “come back and engage with the community.”
“It’s a day of remembrance, and it’s also a day of celebration,” Townsend said.
Music also poured into the sanctuary with musical selections performed by the Bethel African Methodist Episcopal choir. The charts seemed to have been chosen for this specific service-oriented occasion, singing the gospel tunes “Lord I know I’ve been changed” and “Everything You Are (Jesus).”
The Center for Excellence in Diversity and Inclusion bussed students to the event as well, as part of its MLK Unity Week.
Venetia Khouri, an intern at the center and a graduate student in higher education and administration, participates in running the events throughout Unity Week. She said each day of the week hits on a different pillar of Martin Luther King Jr.’s philosophies. The prayer breakfast was a great way to “kick it off,” Khouri said, and the remainder of on-campus events the rest of the week would focus on creativity, networking, minority service and other diversity-oriented events.
The remaining MLK Unity Week events include a unity walk Thursday, Jan. 18, beginning at the Administration Building at 10:50 a.m. and a luncheon on Friday, Jan. 19, from 12:00 p.m. – 2:00 p.m. in the Africa Room featuring powerful speakers. All events sponsored through the Center for Excellence in Diversity and Inclusion for MLK Unity Week are free.
Dickinson concluded his awardee speech with his own interpretation of MLK’s drum major.
“If you want to say I’m a drum major, say that I’m a drum major for a fair, just and equitable Pittsburgh,” he said. “Say that I am a drum major to ensure every Pittsburgh has access to safe and stable housing. Say that I am a drum major for hope that one day Pittsburgh will become one of the most, not the least, livable cities for African Americans. Say that we’re working to make this city a livable place for my two young daughters, so when they grow up, they too can have access to a healthy, well being.”