MLK, Jr. Family Services Second Annual Social Justice Awards

On April 14, 2018
11:30 - 14:00
Chez Josef
176 Shoemaker Lane
01001, Agawam

MLKFS is proud to announce that tickets are available for our 2nd Annual Social Justice Awards Ceremony at Chez Josef on Saturday, April 14th. This will be another year honoring local leaders that have made a strong impact in our community. To purchase tickets, become a sponsor, or donate please visit our website 


Social Justice Begins with Us

April 14, 2018 Social Justice Awards

By Lucie K. Lewis, Ed.D

Social justice provides the foundation for a healthy community. It grows out of our sense that each person—each created being—has value.”

Springfield has been a city where the fight for social justice remains on the forefront of the its leader’s consciousness. Activists have participated in the struggle for civil rights for many decades including fighting to protect the right to fair housing, creating equal access to medical care, improving the quality education for all students and building structures that support economic and political equity. The fight was in the streets, in the courts and in the offices of organizations central to the moral conscience of the community. The fight is not over. It continues in the spirit and values of Martin Luther King Jr. Family Services, and in collaboration with organizations and people across the city, the Agency works to ensure that this issue will continue to remain on the forefront not just of social discourse but of social engagement as well.

The commitment to that fight is also evident in the work of many community residents, and on April 14, Martin Luther King Jr. Family Services will celebrate five advocates who have stepped forward in action to bring about social justice in five essential areas at its Second Annual Social Justice Awards Luncheon to be held at Chez Josef. On this 50th anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Martin Luther King Jr. Family Services CEO & President Ronn Johnson took a reflective look at how much remains unchanged. He explained that “there is much work to do in the continued fight for social justice to address the health disparities, food insecurities, under education of our children and lack of economic opportunity for persons of color. The theme for the event In Times Like These is intended to underscore the need to continue to make every effort to fulfil the dream to create a more just society and city real.” While celebrating the resilience of the Social Justice Awards recipients, Ronn and the members of the Agency family seek to motivate us to press on in the fight for social justice.

The recipients are:

Heriberto Flores of Partners for Community will receive the award in Economic Development. His values and worldview were shaped by the struggles of his childhood, and since returning from active duty in Vietnam, Mr Flores has immerged himself with organizations focused on improving the lives of others including his work at New England Farm Workers Council, Brightwood Development Corp and Partners for Community. It is widely known that, “Mr. Flores brings not only his experience and education, but a strong personal commitment to meeting the needs of the populations served by the many organizations that he is associated with.”

Willette Johnson who retired from the Springfield Public Schools in 2010 will receive the award in Education. After graduating from an Historically Black College, Mrs. Johnson relocated to Springfield and began her 36 year career at the Springfield Public Schools, advancing from a classroom English teacher to a district senior administrator. After her retirement, she worked as a consultant to the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education as a District Reviewer analyzing and evaluating educational systems throughout the Commonwealth. She coached SPS through the newly instituted SEEDS evaluation process. Regardless of what Mrs. Johnson is involved in, “She faithfully uses her voice and acquired skills to ensure that children are getting all that these schools can provide to help them learn, grow, and get smart.”

Lucille Kennedy, owner of the Solid Gold Beauty Palace, will receive the award in Entrepreneurship. With the heart of a true entrepreneur, Miss Lucille, as she is affectionately called, knew her passion “to bring the beauty out in women through HAIR” and has been practicing her craft for 52 years. Miss Lucille uses her role in the community to reach out to students as well. Through fund raising, she has been able to create learning opportunities such as tours of historical sites in Washington, D.C including the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Monument, the National African American Museum, and Howard University. Additionally, she has given high school students the opportunity to tour Morehouse College, Spellman College, and Clark Atlanta University in Atlanta, Georgia.

Dr. Shirley Whitaker of the Northampton VA Medical Center will receive the award in Health Disparities. As the only African American female in her medical graduation class, Dr. Whitaker has used the breadth of her interests and talents to engage the larger community in the meaningful discussion around critical health issues. From the imaginative drug prevention skit Monsters Among Us to her hypertension prevention project serving the Mason Square Area called Hypertension Intervention and Prevention Program (H.I.P.P.), Dr Whitaker has worked to support the community as a health provider and educator. Her outreach includes giving health information on the Denise Stewarts Gospel Program on STCC every Sunday morning. Her most recent project, The Indomitable Spirit (TIS) seeks to raise the discourse on domestic violence to a new level. “She says making things better for people is what she was given life to do. She says, if you are not saying something to make it better you should not say anything at all.”

Springfield Chapter of NAACP is receiving a corporate award in Race Relations. The NAACP was begun in 1909 with the diverse representation of five deeply committed individuals including W.E.B. Du Bois and Ida Bell Wells-Barnett. In 1918, the Springfield branch was chartered to extend the fight for social justice into Western Mass. In the 100 years since, the Springfield NAACP has remained a courageous voice in the struggle for equality in the local community. As its members stand shoulder to shoulder to strive to embed equality into the fiber of the City, NAACP makes a difference.

This year two additional awards will be given.

The first new award is the Life Time Achievement award that will be presented to our highly respected and accomplished community leader Dora Robinson. The second, a legacy award, is being awarded posthumously the community activist lost too soon Jafet Robles.

Mrs. Robinsons’ 35 years of work in the nonprofit arena more than speaks for itself. Drawing on her years of experience as the Corporate Director & Vice President for the Center for Human Development and Vice President of Education at the Urban League of Springfield, Mrs. Robinson served 19 years as the President and CEO of Martin Luther King Jr. Family Services and another 8 years as the President and CEO the United Way. Her contributions to the community during these many years of service will continue to benefit the City for many years to come. In her retirement, Mrs. Robinson is still giving back as she works to raise-up our future leaders through her work as an Adjunct Professor at Springfield College School for Social Work and the School for Professional Studies.

The City mourned the loss of a man taken far too young who had marshaled the experiences of his life to become a vibrant, resonant voice for change and social justice before his death. He founded the Voces de Le Comunidad. He fought for better local schools and worked to end mass incarcerations. He is dearly remembered as one who “transformed into a powerful activist and passionate advocate. He was relentless, fierce, courageous and uncompromising in speaking truth to power.”

Martin Luther King Jr. Family Services look forward to having an event as successful and exhilarating as last year’s where they hosted 550 attendees. Proceeds from the event will be used to support Agency programs like the emergency food bank, after-school programs, college tours and so many more. For more information or to purchase tickets email Qumar Bilal at Martin Luther King, Jr. Family Services at or call (413) 746-3655 Phone ext. 127