Woodruff duo honored at MLK Breakfast

Photo by Kellen Stepler | Judge Dwayne Woodruff and his wife, Joy Maxberry Woodruff, were recognized Monday morning at the Martin Luther King Jr. Breakfast and Program as "drum majors for justice."


Kellen Stepler | Features Editor

Justice, peace, service and righteousness – all these and more are what Martin Luther King Jr. stood for.

This was displayed Monday morning at Ebenezer Missionary Baptist Church for the 21st annual Homer S. Brown Division (HSBD) Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Prayer Breakfast and Program. The breakfast was hosted by the Allegheny County Bar Association (ACBA).

The Hon. Dwayne D. Woodruff and his wife, Joy Maxberry Woodruff, received the 2020 Drum Major for Justice award. The award’s name originates from one of King’s final sermons, titled “Drum Major Instinct,” about a eulogy that might be given in the event of his death.

In the speech, King said, “I want you to say that I tried to love and serve humanity; say that I was a drum major for justice; say that I was a drum major for peace; I was a drum major for righteousness. I just want to leave a committed life behind.” King was assassinated two months after giving the speech.

“The Drum Major for Justice Award is presented to recognize individuals or organizations for their contribution of perpetuating the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, who try to make justice, equality and opportunity a reality for all people,” said Bethany Miller, esquire for the ACBA HSBD.

Miller nominated the Woodruff duo for the award.

“Their lives are examples of selfless love, in their acts of outpouring themselves into the community to promote equality, justice and opportunity for others,” Miller said.

Miller noted that together, the Woodruffs founded and co-chair Pittsburgh’s “Do the Write Thing Challenge,” in which, annually, more than 2,000 middle school students in Allegheny County write about the impact of violence on their lives and have classroom discussions on ending violence.

Judge Woodruff, a 1988 graduate from Duquesne’s Law School, also co-chairs Pittsburgh’s Shared Accountability for Education (SAFE) workgroup and serves on the Educational Success and Truancy Prevention (ESTP) committee. Currently, he is a judge on the Court of Common Pleas of Allegheny County, and presides primarily over juvenile cases.

“He makes sure that juveniles who appear before him know that he genuinely cares about them, he believes in them and he will always be there for them,” Miller said. “His actions ensure justice within our law system, as well as create an opportunity for those who need his support the most.”

Miller also noted Joy’s accomplishments in the Pittsburgh community.

“Joy has served as president of the African-American Women for Political Change, which was formed in part of the recognition of black women among Pittsburgh elected officials,” Miller said. “She has also been active in the North Hills Ebony Women, whose primary mission is to provide scholarships to college- bound minority students, giving them an opportunity.”

“Look at the example Judge Woodruff and Joy Woodruff have set and continue to set as drum major in their work, and in their service to others.”

The Woodruffs have not made contributions in the courtroom and the classroom, but also on the gridiron as well. The couple came to Pittsburgh in 1979 when Dwayne was drafted as a defensive back for the Pittsburgh Steelers, and played until 1990. He played in Super Bowl XIV and was the team’s MVP for the 1982 season. In his final three seasons, he enjoyed a dual career while playing for the Steelers and practicing law with the Meyer Darragh law firm.

Additionally, Joy was president of the Pittsburgh Steelers Wives Association and won a national award as an NFL Humanitarian Woman.

When called to the stage to receive their award, the duo walked to the podium to loud applause and a standing ovation. Joy cried, and Dwayne was visibly proud.

Seeing two awards on the podium, Joy’s tears stopped. “I thought we were sharing [the award],” she said, to the audience’s laughter.

Joy found out that they won the award while sitting in her husband’s office. When she found out, she screamed.

“I did scream, because I had hoped for him, but never for me,” Joy said. “I stand here with my best friend, a man with a heart of gold, who truly cares about and advocates for children.”
Joy recalled that in 2005, Pittsburgh Magazine wrote an article on her family and their accomplishments in that year. In 2005, Dwayne was elected to the Court of Common Pleas, their oldest daughter, Jillian, graduated from medical school, their second daughter, Janyce, graduated college and was accepted to Duquesne’s law school; and their son John graduated from high school and was headed to West Virginia University to play football. Her neighbor saw the article and told Joy to come over to pick it up if they needed an extra copy. When Joy walked over to pick it up, the neighbor’s daughter was at the door to give her the magazine.

“I will never forget the comments she made to me that day,” Joy said. “She said, ‘Wow. This is a wonderful article about your family. Everyone has an accomplishment, except you. You are just a mother,’” Joy said, to a mix of laughter and jeers from the audience.

“So I am grateful for this day,” Joy said, as the audience roared with laughter. “If she could only be here now.”

Dwayne spoke that while society has come a long way, there is still much more work to be done in terms of justice. During his speech, he noted that he couldn’t have accomplished everything without his wife’s help.

“We continue to struggle with justice,” Dwayne said. “How we dispense it, how we review it, how we define it. One thing that I know for sure is that when you’re in a battle, you need to have God’s saints with you. Someone that you trust, someone you can totally depend on, to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with you, to stand back-to-back with you, and I have one of these individuals in my wife.”

The Woodruffs’ accomplishments were recognized through many other community members as well. Congressman Conor Lamb, Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald, Duquesne’s women’s basketball team, Duquesne President Ken Gormley and Lynne Hayes-Freeland from KDKA news, among others, were in attendance during the breakfast and program.

“This is a great, great event that gets bigger every year,” Fitzgerald said. “What we do well in this region is when we come together to meet challenges and move forward.”

Hayes-Freeland, who served as the event’s master of ceremonies, said, “This is one of those days that I get to look out into this audience and say, this is what the dream represents.”

Gormley said in a statement to The Duke that there was an “impressive” Duquesne turnout at the program, and that he is “proud that university students, faculty and staff continue to attend the annual [event.]”

“Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. continues to inspire our own work at Duquesne University of the Holy Spirit, as we seek to serve others on campus, in our broader community and around the globe each day,” Gormley said.

The prayer breakfast and program was just one event Duquesne sponsored to recognize King. Wednesday, Jan. 15 kicked off the Inspire Initiative, which encouraged members of the Duquesne community to write a note of appreciation and recognition to other members of the Duquesne community. The cards will be distributed, and the senders and recipients are invited to a reception on Jan. 29.

“The Inspire Initiative will be quite interesting – acknowledging the service and impact of others is who we represent as a Spiritan University,” said Jeff Mallory, assistant vice president of Duquesne’s diversity, inclusion and student advancement.

Additionally, a MLK Day Luncheon took place in the Africa Room on Friday Jan. 17, where Alvin Tillery from Northwestern University was a keynote speaker. The Power Center hosted athletic tournaments last Monday, and the “I Have a Dream” flag placement occurred on Wednesday. The second and third floors of the Union are where community members are creating flags with their respective dreams on it for others to see, Mallory noted.

“Martin Luther King, Jr. represents many things, in my opinion. From leadership, to perseverance to supporting well-being of others, MLK was at the heart of many things. Above this, his ability to inspire others and provide a voice to those in need, spoke to the transformational nature his servant leadership. Ultimately, I am glad we have the opportunity to uplift and align with his legacy through our work here at Duquesne,” Mallory said.