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Eastern Recognizes Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Distinguished Service Award Winners

Published on February 26, 2015

Eastern Recognizes Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Distinguished Service Award Winners

W. Reggie Hales, publisher of the Hartford-based African American newspaper Inquiring News; Anthony Aidoo, professor of mathematics at Eastern Connecticut State University; and Jonah Craggett, an assistant in Eastern’s Noble Residence Hall, were named recipients of Eastern’s Dr. Martin Luther King Distinguished Service Award. Eastern presented the award to the honorees during a ceremony and reception on Feb. 25. The awards recognize individuals whose actions demonstrate distinguished service in promoting the ideals of Dr. King of inclusion and diversity.

The event began with a celebration of African dance. Provost Rhona Free then took the stage to describe the importance of the University adopting the ideals of Dr. King.

Siobhan Carter-David, professor of history at Southern Connecticut State University, delivered the keynote address, urging young people let their voices ring. Citing an old saying, “Dissent is the highest form of patriotism,” she encouraged young people to make their voices heard against daily injustices. “Even if people consider you delusional or dangerous, your cause is worthy and filled with possibility if only you choose to speak.”

Rhona Free, Eastern’s provost and vice president for academic affairs said, “Eastern has always been at the forefront of promoting “inclusive excellence” and diversity. The first African American student graduated fromEastern in 1908, more than 100 years ago and 50 years before the Little Rock 9 integrated their city high school. Eastern hired its first African American faculty member in 1948, ten years before the Little Rock 9; hired the first African American college president in New England when David Carter was appointed to that position in 1988; hired the first Latina college president in New England when Elsa Núñez was appointed to that position in 2006; and has the highest percent of non-white faculty of any college or university in Connecticut.”

For more than four decades, Hales, who also serves as CEO of the Hartford Enterprise Business Association, has covered events critical to the development of the community, focusing on all minority groups. He has been especially vigilant in telling the story of Eastern’s growth, academic excellence and community service. Hales said the award honored his mentors as well —  “Dr. Arthur Johnson, a Civil Rights advocate, author and Eastern sociology professor, after whom Eastern named a wing of its Student Center; Reverend Collin Bennett, an Eastern Distinguished Alumni Award winner, after whom Eastern named a section of its library; and Dr. Carter, who built Eastern into a world class university. ”

“Mr. Hales is a strong supporter and promoter of Eastern’s “College Goal Sunday” a nationwide program specifically designed to assist first generation college students from low income households, complete their Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA),” said David Mariasi, assistant to the director of financial aid and veterans affairs at Eastern. Being an Administrator in Financial Aid, here at Eastern, I appreciate his efforts in publicizing these events each year.” Recalling Dr. King’s ties to the AFSCME Local 1733 sanitation workers in Memphis, TN, where he was assassinated, Mariasi said, “Being a union leader myself, I also appreciate Dr. King’s and Mr. Hales support of the struggling working class who are often not represented or even heard at all.”

Mathematics is not often connected with social progress, but Aidoo has used his expertise in the field to promote equality and education among minorities. Aidoo service on Eastern’s Promotion and Tenure Committee and Faculty Development Committee and has brought scholars from Ghana to teach at Eastern. “His service there has had a significant impact on the student population, who derived rich benefits from being taught by highly qualified faculty of color,” said Sociology Professor Dennis Canterbury. “Professor Aidoo was personally responsible for bringing two Ghanaian Ph.D. students in Mathematics, who taught that subject area at Eastern. This added great diversity on campus from which our students benefitted immensely.”

Aidoo also serves as a faculty advisor for the African Club on campus, the 180 Christian Fellowship, and is a member of the Campus Ministry Board, all which help to promote cultural tolerance at Eastern. In addition, he has made sterling contributions to STEP/CAP ((Summer Transition Enrichment program/Collegiate Admission Program). His research addresses social justice issues and its impact on people globally. One article Aidoo published, “Effect of Channel Geometry on the Electrostatic Potential in Acetylcholine Channels,” was selected as one of the “Top Ten Articles” of all time published in the same domain by BioMedLib. He serves an instructor for the not-for-profit Neighborhood Renovation and Training Program (NRTP), which trains high school dropouts to obtain their General Education Development certificate; collects and donates books to develop libraries in Datano, Ghana; and serves as an advisor to the African Institute of Mathematical Sciences in Biriwa, Ghana.

Craggett has been effective in helping build a foundation for a better understanding of under-represented and marginalized communities on campus by creating presentations on diversity on campus. “I dedicate this award to my late brother, Jacob Craggett. Everything I do, I do for him; and for young children of color everywhere, whose lives matter far beyond what you can comprehend.”

“I’d like to thank central Housing for always supporting me, encouraging me and giving me the opportunity to teach about inclusion and diversity. Kemesha Wilmot, Starsheemar Byrum and the Arthur Johnson Unity Wing staff, the Noble Hall staff, thank you for always embracing me and hearing me when I go on rants about racial injustices that I see every day. Most importantly, I’d like to thank my mother, Lisa Craggett. Your unyielding support and unwavering love has pushed me to be great.

Wilmot, coordinator of Eastern’s Intercultural Center, and who graduated from Weaver High School and Eastern felt very gratified at this year’s event. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. A man who wanted to be remembered as a “drum major for peace.” A man who promoted the message of unity, saying, ‘We’ll all live together as brothers, or perish together as fools.’ He also said ‘Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, ‘What are you doing for others.’ I think this year’s ceremony reflected a bond between us all, and I am sure the University looks forward to honoring next year’s recipients.”


Written by Ryan King