The Annual MLK Jr. Unity Day Celebration

Andre Gaines

By Dawn Scotland
Sojourner’s Truth Reporter

The University of Toledo, in partnership with the City of Toledo and the City of Toledo Human Relations Commission, held its 21st annual Martin Luther King Jr. Unity Day virtually on Monday, January 17. This year’s theme was ‘Everyday Activism’ and featured Toledo native and acclaimed film producer Andre Gaines as the keynote speaker.

Alexis Means, 13abc Action News anchor, served as mistress of ceremonies for the virtual event. A welcome was presented by University of Toledo President Dr. Gregory Postel followed by Mayor Wade Kapszukiewicz. The mayor honored keynote speaker Andre Gaines with a Key to the City in his remarks.

The national anthem was sung by mezzo-soprano Olivia Johnson (2019/2020 Toledo Opera resident artist) accompanied by Emily Moran of the Toledo Opera. A breathtaking rendition of ‘Lift Every Voice and Sing’ was performed by vocal student soprano Ivana Butler accompanied by Kevin Bylsma, also of the Toledo Opera. The Presentation of Colors was given by the Lucas County Sheriff’s Department and Police Department.

Congresswoman Marcy Kaptur and U.S. Senator Sherrod Brown provided individual remarks. A moment of silence was given to those who lost their lives in 2021. Following the commemoration, a video on gun violence was presented by the City of Toledo Human Relations Commission.

The celebration featured a host of local talent including presentations from The M.A.D.D. Poets Society, the Scott High School Choir, and a dance performance by the University of Toledo F.I.R.E. Squad Dance Team.

Five University of Toledo students received $1000 scholarship awards from the Martin Luther King Scholarship Fund sponsored by Paramount. Malaika Bell, interim executive director for the Office of Diversity and Inclusion at the University of Toledo, presented the awards.

The five scholarship recipients were:

  • Jasmine Fox (Junior) – Major in Law & Social Thought
  • Tariq Hardiman (Senior) – Major: Law & Social Thought, Africana Studies
  • Stephon McQueen (Senior) – Major: Early Childhood Education
  • Nyriesha Tevis (Sophomore) – Major: Social Work
  • Kennedy Williams (Senior) – Major: Digital Marketing

“Each undergraduate was asked to write an essay about what they believe to be the most pressing social justice issue of our time”, said Bell. The essay topics included: the public education system, fair housing practices, lack of unity in the black community, sexual violence against women and black men in the criminal justice system.

The Toledo Opera shared a preview of a documentary on their upcoming all-black opera ‘Blue’ that will run in August of 2022.

Erin Baker, director of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion at the Toledo Lucas County Public Library and chair of the Human Rights Commission introduced keynote speaker Andre Gaines.

“As a critically acclaimed producer, Andre Gaines made his directorial debut with a definitive biography of comedian and activist Dick Gregory,” said Baker. “Chris Rock, Kevin Hart, Wanda Sykes, W. Kamau Bell, Lena Waithe, Myrlie Evers-Williams and Harry Belafonte star in Gaines feature film The One and Only Dick Gregory about the life of a man who was not only a civil rights activist, social critic and comedian but also a devoted health pioneer, husband and father. Gaines is also an executive producer of HBO’s critically acclaimed four-part documentary series The Lady and the Dale.

The keynote was a moderated interview between news anchor Brandon Tucker and the filmmaker. The two spoke in detail about Dick Gregory, the late comedian and activist who was good friends with Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King. Gaines is a graduate of the New York University Tisch School of the Arts.

He created his own film company, Cinemation Studios in 2010 and “works with up-and-coming filmmakers across media to bring their voices and perspectives to the forefront of the film industry”. He along with his wife and two children currently reside in Los Angeles, California. The full interview can be viewed on the University of Toledo’s YouTube page and website

Special Thanks was given by Erin Baker of the Human Relations Commission. Ivana Butler of the Toledo Opera closed the event with singing “He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands.”