2017 Unsung Hero Award Winners

The Dr. Martin Luther King Celebration Committee has selected the winners for this year’s Unsung Hero Award. The group will be honored at the Jan.29 event, which takes place at the Carrier Dome. Each award winner was nominated by a member of the community, and was carefully considered by committee members.

Shewa Shwani ’18
Student

Shwani is in her junior year at State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry. She is a student ambassador and president of the Food Recovery Network, which works with charitable organizations throughout the city to recover prepared but unused food from dining halls and donate it to those in need. Shwani also organized the inaugural 3k Run for Literacy in Syracuse, which served to draw attention to poverty issues and the refugee population in Syracuse. She draws her inspiration from her mom, who works with local refugees, immigrants and other disadvantaged groups in the greater CNY community, as well as from King himself. Shwani’s nominator says she “truly exemplifies the spirit, life and teachings of Martin Luther King Jr. Shewa is a leader and a doer, and a believer that only light can drive out darkness. It’s what motivates her to participate and host numerous interfaith, multicultural and community development events, while keeping a busy school schedule and a high GPA.”

A. Peter Castro
Faculty

Castro is a professor of anthropology in the Maxwell School. Castro has several decades’ worth of experience as an applied anthropologist for agencies such as the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN, the U.S. Agency for International Development, the UN Development Programme and others, working on issues of poverty alleviation, sustainable natural resource management, participatory development and conflict management aimed at helping the world’s poor. His nominator writes, “Applied anthropology is a field that uses anthropological data to solve problems in the modern world. This is the driving force behind Peter’s work. Peter’s commitment is well illustrated by his almost 30 years of service as a consultant for the Near East Foundation, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, the United States Agency for International Development, the United Nations Development Program, CARE and other organizations in which he has taken a leading role. Receiving an MLK Unsung Hero Award acknowledges his long-time service to African development as an applied anthropologist, particularly with regard to the management of and access to natural resources, and efforts to alleviate hunger and poverty.”

Dr. Robert Fangio
Community Member

Dr. Robert Fangio is a dentist and Roman Catholic deacon. He also volunteers his dentistry skills for Amaus Health Services, which provides free dental care to those in need, including homeless people and those just released from prison. Lacking regular preventive care, patients often suffer pain and health-threatening dental emergencies. Fangio is a supervising dentist at the SUNY Canton School of Dental Hygiene, and also serves as a deacon at Holy Family Church in Syracuse. An accomplished musician, Fangio plays the accordion and serves as a Holy Family cantor. Besides traditional liturgical duties, “Deacon Bob” leads youth and senior groups in social and community service activities. His nominator believes that one particular Biblical passage speaks uniquely to Fangio: “From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.” (Luke 12:48)

Vincent Love
Community Member

Love is president of 100 Black Men of Syracuse Inc. The group is committed to the intellectual development of youth and the economic empowerment of the African-American community, by promoting a message of respect for family, spirituality, justice and integrity. Love works as a treasurer in the North Syracuse Central School District, and also serves on the boards of a number of organizations including the Center for Community Alternatives, The Gifford Foundation, Hillside Work Scholarship Connection and Vera House. He also helped to create the Saturday Academy, which works to improve the academic performance by young people in school and better prepare them for success in college and beyond. The program accepts a limited number of 4th- through 8th-grade male and female students without regard to their family’s financial situation. His nominator says that Love not only leads through his governance acumen, “but also by his personal modeling of what service and commitment to helping others is really all about; doing so with an unbridled passion and a pledge that is unmatched in a sustained manner. Through his strong commitment Vincent B. Love represents Dr. King’s legacy as King has stated ‘life’s most persistent and urgent question is what are you doing for others.’”

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1965 Recording of Dr. King at Syracuse University

In July 1965 Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. visited the campus of Syracuse University and spoke at Sims Hall. He was introduced by his longtime friend and Syracuse faculty member Dr. Charles Willie. This recording of his speech comes from the Syracuse University Archives.

J.R. Martinez Keynote Speaker at 2017 Celebration

J.R. Martinez is this year's MLK Keynote Speaker.
J.R. Martinez is this year’s MLK Keynote Speaker.

The Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration committee is proud to announce the speaker for this year’s event. Best-selling author, actor, U.S. Army veteran and motivational speaker J.R. Martinez will provide the keynote address at the yearly celebration of the life and legacy of Dr. King. This is the 32nd year for the event at Syracuse University’s Carrier Dome, It’s the largest of its kind, and will take place on Sunday, January 29, 2017.

“It’s an honor to be named as the keynote speaker for this event,” said Martinez, “primarily because of the man who we gather to honor, but also, because of the large number of people from all walks of life who will be there to honor Dr. King.”

Martinez was born in Shreveport, Louisiana and raised in Dalton, Georgia. He joined the Army after high school and was deployed to Iraq in 2003. A month into his tour he, along with three other soldiers, were badly burned in a roadside explosion. During his recovery, a nurse asked him to speak to a burn patient, who had just seen his body for the first time and had become withdrawn. For Martinez, it was a life changing moment. After a brief visit, he realized that he had a positive impact on this patient and decided to use his own experiences to help others. He continued to visit patients every day, sharing his story and listening to theirs. He learned that inspiration is often a two-way street.

Martinez has since become a motivational speaker, traveling the world to spread a message of resilience and optimism. Martinez story captured the attention of producers on the Emmy Award-winning daytime drama All My Children, where he played a role he was familiar with: as a wounded veteran returning home to face the many challenges of civilian life. More recently, Martinez showed his dancing skills, winning the Mirrorball Trophy as part of the Dancing with the Stars program. He’s appeared on TV shows including Oprah, 60 Minutes, The Tonight Show, Good Morning America, and on Univision. His story was told in the New York Times, and he was also named one of People’s “Most Intriguing People” of 2011. Martinez is also the author of the New York Times bestselling book, Full of Heart: My Story of
Survival, Strength, and Spirit, a memoir about how he was able to take his personal tragedy and turn it into an inspiration for others. He’s also serves as a spokesperson for a number of organizations, including Operation Finally Home and the Phoenix Society for Burn Survivors.

According to 2017 Celebration Chairwoman Ajajielle Brown, “to have a motivational voice and Army veteran serve as our main speaker, the honor is truly ours. J.R.’s story is one that should serve as an inspiration to us all. He helps to lift voices and spirits, and more to the point, shows that what’s inside a person is what counts.”

Martinez will be the featured speaker, but the celebration includes more than the event at the Carrier Dome. It’s a weekend filled with activities and community-wide involvement organized by the City of Syracuse, the University and the MLK committee. On Saturday, January 28, a community event will be held at Nottingham High School. The community event includes a day of educational workshops and recreational activities, as well as an awards ceremony for K-12 students.

On Sunday, Jan. 29, dinner precedes the program at 4:30 p.m., with doors opening at 4 p.m. Tickets go on sale beginning November 1. For employees, staff and the general public, tickets will be sold through the Schine Box Office, and are available on an individual basis ($30) or in blocks of 10 ($300). Cash, credit or interdepartmental ID may be used. All tickets are for general seating.
Student tickets are $15 and can be purchased through a meal plan at dining halls. Students without a meal plan can purchase at Schine Box Office as well.

The evening program, which includes an address by Martinez, the presentation of the 2017 Unsung Hero Awards, music by a community choir and entertainment by student performers, begins at 5:30 p.m. and is free and open to the public. For questions, call Hendricks Chapel at 315-443-5044.

American Sign Language (ASL) interpretation and Communication Access Real-Time will be available at the event. To request dietary or other accommodations, contact Ginny Yerdon at Hendricks Chapel at 315-443-2901 or gyerdon@syr.edu.

Request for a Copy of Speeches and Performances

The committee has received calls and emails as it relates to request for copies of transcripts and/or DVDs of the program. At this time we are looking into this matter and once we have determine a course of action we will send out information.

Student Speaker 2016 : Danielle Reed

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Danielle Reed

Danielle Reed is a senior from Atlanta, Georgia with a double major in Spanish Language, Literature & Culture and African American Studies. This year she returns from a semester abroad in Madrid, where she filmed her first documentary, Black en Spain, which investigates the experiences of people of the African Diaspora living in Spain. Reed is an aspiring journalist who interned at Time Warner Cable News in Syracuse last summer through the T. Howard Foundation, and currently reports for Citrus TV News on campus. Known as a student activist through her leadership and involvement in different student movements related to Syracuse University and social justice issues. Reed is an active member in the Syracuse community, having worked at the Community Folk Art Center and lead efforts to re-establish The Black Voice, a campus publication that was founded in 1968. Before graduating in May, she hopes to debut, Black en Spain, on campus and in the community this February.