Governor DeWine Recognizes Ohioans for Keeping Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Dream Alive

Ohio Governor Mike DeWine and the Ohio Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Holiday Commission announced last week the winners of the annual Ohio MLK Awards honoring the service and achievements of Ohio residents and organizations in areas consistent with the teachings and example of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

“Congratulations to these Ohioans who are keeping Dr. King’s dream alive by promoting peace, service, and community engagement in all they do,” said Governor DeWine. “We are incredibly grateful for their spirit of community and compassion.”

The Commission will present the awards at noon Thursday, Jan. 11 during the 39th Annual Ohio Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Commemorative Celebration at Trinity Episcopal Church, located in downtown Columbus at the southeast corner of Third and Broad streets. The event, which will be livestreamed and rebroadcast on the Ohio Channel [ ], will also feature student speakers from the 2023 Statewide MLK Oratorical Contest.

“This year’s award winners truly reflect the values that Dr. King spent his life advocating for,” said Chrstina Rodriguez, chair of the Commission. “The Ohio Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Holiday Commission congratulates these outstanding Ohioans for creating positive social change and making a difference in their communities.”

The Commission, which receives administrative support from the Ohio Department of Administrative Services, advocates Dr. King’s principles of nonviolent change and the pursuit of racial, social, and economic justice, and annually hosts the award ceremony in January leading up to the MLK holiday.

The following organization and three individuals will be recognized:

Ohio Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Governor’s Humanitarian Award –Courtis Fuller, Cincinnati

“The Governor’s Humanitarian Award seeks to honor those quiet soldiers who promote the welfare of humanity and the elimination of pain and suffering through their own selfless service, often without recognition. Nominees possess a personal activism that has inspired unheralded long-term service to the community and stands as a model for others to emulate.”

Courtis Fuller is a hall of fame broadcast journalist appreciated for spotlighting important issues and accomplishments of people of color and underserved populations. He is a news anchor and reporter for the Cincinnati NBC affiliate, WLWT-TV, where he has spent 35 years of his nearly 44-year career.

In 2023 he was inducted into the inaugural class of the WLWT Hall of Fame. He is a multi-Emmy award winner and a 2021 inductee in the prestigious Ohio Valley Chapter of the National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences Silver Circle, an honor for television professionals who have made lasting contributions to the industry and to the community for 25 or more years.

Consistently, Fuller has shown his leadership and commitment. He is very active in politics and local community issues. He issued the proposal to Cincinnati City Council that led to an inner-city street being renamed in honor of high school honor student Derrick Turnbow, who was shot to death. He led the effort to have the City of Cincinnati and the Cincinnati Reds honor the 50th anniversary of Jackie Robinson’s entrance into Major League Baseball. He also conceived and produced an eight-day Cincinnati Jazz and Heritage Festival.

In 2001, Fuller stepped away from the anchor desk to demonstrate his commitment once again to Cincinnati. He gained international attention as a political newcomer by winning the primary election in his bid to become the first directly elected mayor of Cincinnati in 75 years. He received a respectable 45 percent of the vote in the general election.

He returned to WLWT-TV in 2003 after hosting his own talk show on WCIN radio. He is a much sought-after speaker and the longtime host for dozens of events. Furthermore, he has assisted in raising millions of dollars for organizations by volunteering his time.

He is an advisory board member for the Cincinnati Scholarship Foundation and an honorary member of the Cincinnati Opera Board. Previously, he served as a member of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra Board, the Greater Cincinnati Tall Stacks Commission, the U.S. Department of Education’s Back-to-School National Advisory Board, and the Executive Board of the National Association of Black Journalists.

Fuller is always looking for ways to serve his community, so in 2010 a scholarship was established in his name to help young aspiring journalists achieve their dream.

David Butcher, curator of the Tablertown People of Color Museum in Athens

Individual Award – David Butcher, Athens County

“The Individual Award recognizes those who have made significant contributions toward building a sense of unity among Ohio citizens.”

David Butcher is the executive director and head curator of the Tablertown People of Color Museum, a nonprofit enterprise in Kilvert, Ohio. Formerly known as Tablertown, Kilvert is an unincorporated town in Athens County rich in cultural heritage.

The museum preserves and showcases 19th-century cultural artifacts that tell the story of Appalachian diversity. Tablertown was founded circa 1830 by Michael Tabler, the son of a slave owner, and his wife, Hannah, who had been enslaved on the plantation of Michael’s father. A descendant of Michael and Hannah, David Butcher founded the Tablertown People of Color Museum in 2003 to recognize and honor the challenges his family experienced and overcame.

Years before the museum opened, Butcher had a vision for building unity in the community and birthing social change in his family’s rural hometowns through meaningful conversations about race and lineage. His community service has included being a board member for the Southeast Ohio History Center, Central Region Humanities Center, and Rural Action. He also served as the board president for the Kilvert Community Center. In addition, Butcher has a 200-mile roundtrip daily commute to Haverhill, Ohio, where he has worked for the past 18 years as a utility worker for SunCoke Energy.

Butcher’s nominator said, “His long-term commitment for taking a nonviolent approach to advancing equity among diverse populations is admirable, all while working full time, raising four accomplished children, and being a phenomenal husband, exceptional son, and pillar of support to several other family members, friends, local residents, and professionals.”

Over the past two decades, Mr. Butcher has collaborated with numerous community organizations and partners to secure and sustain the future of Kilvert and the Tablertown People of Color Museum.

“I am in awe that his events in Kilvert and surrounding areas have drawn thousands of visitors from across the region and beyond. In fact, as a guest curator at the Ohio University Kennedy Museum of Art, Mr. Butcher’s first-ever exhibit, “People of Color: A Multicultural Role in History”, displayed in March of 2003, drew the largest crowd of any exhibit ever presented in the Kennedy Museum of Art. Several other events hosted by Mr. Butcher throughout the years have been equally popular, including lectures, private and group tours, and events involving local collaborators and partners,” said his nominator.

Emmanuela Francique

Youth: Capturing the Vision of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Award –Emmanuela Francique, Columbus

“The Youth Award recognizes young Ohioans who exemplify leadership, nonviolence, commitment to excellence, and interracial cooperation. Nominees must have demonstrated an adherence to one or more of Dr. King’s Six Principles of Nonviolence and must have been 20 or younger on Nov. 30.”

Emmanuela Francique, 17, is a senior at Columbus Alternative High School who is involved in several volunteer activities and started her own student organization.

She has been a member of the Franklin County Youth Council for more than a year. During this time, Emmanuela has participated in their volunteer program with the Mid-Ohio Food Bank, assisted with its signature event – Trauma From the Lens of Youth, and has completed the Youth-Led Teen Suicide Prevention Training: Sources of Strength (S.O.S).

Franklin County Youth Council is an organization established by area non-profits and government agencies who answered the 2013 call of President Barack Obama to engage young people in conversations addressing mental health and mental illness. The purpose of the council is to engage, encourage, and empower youth to be more involved in community service, build leadership skills, and voice policy ideas and concerns of area youth.

In addition to her involvement with the Franklin County Youth Council, Francique is the founder of Small Hit, Big Impact, a student organization she runs as an after-school club at her school. She incorporated it as a limited liability company. Small Hit, Big Impact focuses on volunteerism, purpose-driven leadership, and fostering personal development. She organizes workshops and volunteer opportunities for students.

She also is active in her church, Ephesus Seventh-day Adventist Church, where her activities include serving as a youth leader for the Pathfinder program, which is a youth ministry. She also serves as a junior deaconess, youth elder, youth ministries secretary, and as a superintendent for the lower division Sabbath School.

Francique said, “My dream profession is in leadership and the organization of people. I love the responsibility and freedom that comes with entrepreneurship. In my work as a businesswoman, I want my business to respect and nurture a diverse group of people to come together with the common goal of serving their community. I want to create a legacy of community and self-advocacy that promotes positive social change.”

Courtis Fuller

Organization Award –Black Art Speaks, Cincinnati

“The Organization Award recognizes organizations that have made significant contributions toward building a sense of unity among Ohio citizens.”

Black Art Speaks is a vibrant alliance of artists, organizations, and activists dedicated to celebrating Black art and culture while tackling critical social issues within the community.

Black Art Speaks partners with other organizations and communities to use the power of art to address cycles of violence and trauma, explore ways to improve quality of life and empower and heal the community.

Originating from the Black Lives Matter mural outside Cincinnati’s City Hall, Black Art Speaks quickly made its mark. The poem “We Want What You Want” by Alandes Powell, founder and executive director of Black Art Speaks, inspired a community-wide initiative, turning each mural letter into a collaborative canvas. This project united over 1,000 individuals from various backgrounds, fostering dialogue and highlighting our shared human experiences.

Black Art Speaks engages the community through diverse art forms, including visual arts, performances, and workshops, to ensure inclusivity and education. Notable projects include collaborations that address gun violence and misconceptions about Black men, such as ‘The Letter Project’ with the University of Cincinnati, Avondale, and Roselawn communities, and a creative partnership with the DiveRight Leadership Development Program involving the Cincinnati Bengals.

The organization’s impact extends beyond showcasing Black talent; it fosters unity in Ohio through shared values of humanity and respect. By leveraging art for social commentary, Black Art Speaks champions peaceful expression and dialogue, aligning with Dr. King’s principles.

Black Art Speaks confronts racial inequality, promoting equity by raising awareness of systemic biases and encouraging dialogue. Their educational collaborations introduce art and cultural understanding to youth, fostering diversity and learning among student groups.

Black Art Speaks’ multidisciplinary collaborations, encompassing arts, business, and social sectors, demonstrate their commitment to unity and understanding. Their approach to using art for education and healing is noteworthy, addressing social justice issues through peaceful means and facilitating essential dialogue.

Lifetime Service Award – McKinley E. Brown, Cincinnati

The Commission will also grant a special Lifetime Service Award to McKinley E. Brown, who retired from the Commission on Dec. 31 after 10 years, including three years as chair.

Brown is a retired police officer who was most recently chief of detectives for the Hamilton County Prosecutor’s Office. He began his career in law enforcement in 1981 as a patrol officer with the Cincinnati Police Department. Brown, who served in the U.S. Army before entering law enforcement, was a 2010 inductee into the Greater Cincinnati Police Museum’s prestigious 1132 Living Legends.