Written by Julianne Bass
(left to right) Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Distinguished Service Award winners: Yaw Nsiah, Carolyn Gamble-Rivers (accepting for her daughter, Maiyah), and Robert Fernandez, with Eastern President Elsa Núñez, second from left.
Willimantic, CT --Eastern Connecticut State University student Maiyah Gambles-Rivers; Yaw Nsiah, professor of biology at Eastern; and Robert Fernandez, associate director of Quinebaug Valley Community College's Willimantic Center, were honored on Feb. 23 in the Paul E. Johnson Sr. Community Conference Room as Eastern's 2011 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Distinguished Service Award recipients.
In her welcoming remarks, Eastern President Elsa Nuñez said Dr. King was alive today in Middle Eastern countries such as Egypt, Libya, Tunisia and Bahrain, where young people are using the principles of nonviolent resistance articulated by Dr. King to bring about change.
"Black History Month always reminds me to question my own moral commitment -- am I walking the talk?" said Nuñez. "Our three honorees tonight all demonstrate their own moral commitment. With such leadership, we can build stronger communities and protect our great democracy."
The cast of HerStory, a spoken-word performance first written and produced in 2005, gave the keynote for the night with the short performance piece "A Tribute to Martin Luther King." Suzen Jenne Baraka, Tahani Salah, J. F. Seary and Helena D. Lewis used poetry and prose to share their experiences growing up, challenging stereotypes and struggling for equality.
Before coming to Eastern, Maiyah Gamble-Rivers, who is studying in Italy this semester, served as an intern at Youth in Action in Providence, RI, coordinating academic mentoring programs and a nonviolence team that focused on helping young adults make positive choices. Working in collaboration with the Center for Community Engagement and other departments on Eastern's campus, Gamble-Rivers has coordinated numerous programs for the Women's Center. She has also helped to coordinate two benefit concerts for the victims of the devastating earthquake in Haiti; supported the McSweeney Senior Center in Willimantic by interacting with seniors and providing transportation for student volunteers; and volunteered at the No Freeze Shelter.
Yaw Nsiah, associate professor of biology, is dedicated to sharing knowledge about his field of public health and preventing the spread of curable diseases. He single-handedly created and has coordinated the Rural Health Project Africa in Ghana, West Africa since 2003, a program designed to promote health education and self-help practices in the Ashanti region of Ghana. Nsiah also spearheaded the development of a certificate and minor in public health studies and concentration of public health for the Bachelor of General Studies at Eastern. In addition, Nsiah is also recognized by his colleagues as the unofficial ambassador for Eastern's Jamaican teacher cohort program, which has awarded more than 160 Jamaican teachers with a bachelor's degree in sociology from Eastern.
Robert Fernandez, associate director of Quinebaug Valley Community College's (QVCC) Willimantic Center, is an active member of the Willimantic community. He is a key collaborator in Eastern's Dual Enrollment Initiative, now in its third year of operation. This program gives graduates from Hartford Public High School an opportunity to enroll as students at QVCC while also taking one course at Eastern during their first semester of college, as they ease the transition to Eastern. Fernandez also has helped students in Windham High School's after-school program, working to secure funds to ensure students have access to extracurricular activities that can to help them pursue productive career paths. He is also a member on the Governor's Underage Drinking Taskforce, where he plays an integral role in educating young people across Connecticut about the consequences of underage drinking.