The 39th Annual Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration Planning Committee is proud to announce the 2024 Unsung Hero Award winners: Murjan Abdi, Sharon Dotger, Elbethel Berhane and Mia-Marie Fields ’24.

The Unsung Hero Award is given to community members, students, faculty and staff who have made a positive impact on the lives of others but are not widely recognized for their contributions. The awards were created to honor Dr. King’s vision of creating positive change in a troubled world. There were a record number of nominations for this year’s award.

The award winners will be recognized at the 39th Annual Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration. The 2024 celebration will be held on Sunday, Jan. 21, with the art gallery opening at 4:15 p.m., dinner at 5 p.m., and the event at 7 p.m. featuring keynote speaker Talithia Williams. Tickets for the celebration are available on the MLK Celebration website.

The Unsung Heroes are:

Dotger is the faculty director of teacher education and undergraduate studies in the School of Education. Over the past year, she has been tasked with redesigning the teacher education program, ensuring that preservice teachers are equipped with the skills, knowledge and compassion necessary to both enter the workforce and thrive in it. This shift will ensure that graduates of the University’s education programs are prepared to work alongside students with disabilities in schools across the nation, bringing the world closer to full inclusion.

Mia-Marie Fields ’24 (Syracuse University student)

Fields, majoring in biomedical engineering in the College of Engineering and Computer Science (ECS), exemplifies the values of scholarship, service, social justice and inclusion. In her time at Syracuse University, she has helped to develop a portable breast cancer detection device addressing healthcare inequities in resource-limited countries; assisted in updating the Dean’s Advisory Panel in ECS; worked with a team to re-design the interior of 119 Euclid; and introduced Kevin Richardson of the “Exonerated 5” at the Black Excellence Gala. Fields is known to be both selfless and humble in her many pursuits.

Elbethel Berhane (Community youth)

Currently a senior at Jamesville-DeWitt High School, Berhane began her work with the Umoja/Kente Club as a first-year student and has continued her service by becoming the co-student advisor in her senior year. Last summer, she became certified and trained through the Student Coalition on Race and Equity, an initiative that accesses the talent and skills of students to eliminate racism in their community, starting in their school district. She currently works with People In Action and teaches Bible stories and lessons in the Amharic language to elementary school children at the Ethiopian Orthodox Church in Baldwinsville, New York.

Murjan Abdi (Community member)

A dedicated leader, Abdi uplifts his community with tremendous commitment. A proud graduate of the Syracuse City School District, he joined the Manufacturers Association of Central New York (MACNY), serving in the field of workforce development. Prior to his work at MACNY, Murjan was an integral part of Onondaga Community College, significantly impacting the Educational Opportunity Program and the Collegiate Science Technical Entry Program. As a former peer financial mentor at CNY Works, Murjan’s unique ability to connect with young people catalyzed positive transformations in Syracuse. His commitment to community development inspires hope for a more inclusive future in Syracuse.

Syracuse University’s Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration Unsung Hero Award

Do you know individuals in the Central New York Community who have made a positive difference in the lives of others, but who are not widely recognized for their efforts? The Unsung Hero Award, granted at the largest university-affiliated Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. celebration in the nation, celebrates individuals or community groups who exemplify the spirit, life, and teachings of Dr. King, but have not received widespread recognition for or been previously honored for their efforts.

Awards are granted for people in the following categories:

  • Youth (age 18 or younger)
  • Community Member ​(age 18 or older)
  • currently enrolled Syracuse University or SUNY-ESF student
  • Syracuse University or SUNY-ESF faculty or staff

Past recipients of this award have led community initiatives; advanced human rights, nonviolence, diversity and nondiscrimination; mentored youth; advocated for peace and justice; and offered support to the most vulnerable citizens of their communities.