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June 5, 2014

Fighting for what is just and right

Justice and Equality Awards Ceremony to honor community leaders

By Sherri Kolade
C & G Staff Writer

SOUTHFIELD — You don’t have to be a Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. or community activist Viola Liuzzo to be recognized as a leader or trailblazer.

But having their resolute spirit helps.

Just ask the Southfield-based Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Task Force Inc., which will honor southeast Michigan leaders at 6 p.m. June 11 at the Pi Banquet Hall, 28847 Franklin Road, during the Justice and Equality Awards Ceremony.

The ceremony will honor local community leaders who have made important contributions to promote justice, equality and diversity, or who have shown courage.

Awards will be presented to people who have exemplified traits characteristic of King Jr., Mahatma Gandhi, Rosa Parks, Abraham Lincoln, Nelson Mandela and other humanitarians, according to a press release.

Honoring the likes of Attorney Richard Bernstein and Oakland County Prosecutor Jessica Cooper was a no-brainer for Task Force President Dorothy Dean, who said about 30 recipients, from judges to journalists, were nominated by organizations and individuals who felt they personified the word “trailblazer.”

“So many different individuals … so many people (are) doing great things, and we felt that we wanted to pause and take time and recognize what they’ve done,” Dean said.

Some award categories include the Viola Liuzzo Courage Award named for the civil rights martyr who helped organize Detroit protests and worked with the NAACP. The President Vicente Guerrero Equality Award is named for one of the leading revolutionary generals of the Mexican War of Independence. Guerrero was elected the second president of Mexico in 1829. The Frederick Douglass Equality Award is named for the social reformer, orator, writer and statesman who escaped from slavery and became a leader of the abolitionist movement.

Award recipient and Farmington Hills-based attorney Bernstein, who found out about the recognition in mid-May, said he became a lawyer to make life better for people.

“The law is one great vehicle that allows that to happen,” he said. “As a courtroom litigator, it is incredibly challenging, incredibly difficult, especially being blind. Being born blind creates a certain understanding and appreciation of life.”

Bernstein, who won the President Abraham Lincoln Equality Award, added that there is no point in getting an award if it is not going to lead to some kind of change.

“It has to lead to change. That is the goal,” he said.

Bernstein said there is still a long way to go in terms of civil rights, but that day is coming.

“There will always be work and challenges in front of us, but when you have a chance to go to an event like this (the Justice and Equality Awards Ceremony), I think we should celebrate the fact that things are getting better and people should be hopeful and optimistic about the future.”

Dean said Bernstein was selected for that particular award because of his advocacy in the disabled community.

“We wanted it to be someone who has done things that would impact many people in the state,” she said. “And one of the reasons he was selected was because of the different cases that he had been successful in, in terms of getting accommodations for individuals in the community who were disabled.”

Dean said she hopes that attendees will walk away from the event knowing that they don’t have to be civil rights martyrs to get the job done.

“We should be taking time and recognizing people who do things to help a broader community,” she said. “When you think about it, courage, it doesn’t take that much to say, ‘No, I’m not going to go (in) the back of the bus.’ It is important to let our community know you can do this. Choose who you want to be.”

Dinner is included, and tickets are $75 apiece.

For more information, go to http://www.mlktaskforcemi.org/.

You can reach C & G Staff Writer Sherri Kolade at skolade@candgnews.com or at (586)498-1046.