MLK award, youth essay contest underway

By: Jessica Strachan | Southfield Sun | Published November 26, 2013

SOUTHFIELD/LATHRUP VILLAGE  —  Patrick Coleman, owner of Southfield’s Beans & Cornbread, doesn’t allow his job to keep him behind the scenes of a restaurant. Instead, for him, it means being at the forefront of the community.

“We have been here 16 years, and part of what my responsibility is, is to be a pillar in the community. We provide a service, and we are of service to the community,” Coleman said. “Sometimes, that entails not only being an employer, but being a mentor to youth employed here, offering food and service to schools, churches and community organizations.”

That mindset is among the reasons he was given last year’s 2013 Martin Luther King Community Service Award — a proud moment, he said.

“If you want to be great, you have to be a servant,” he said. “People who offer their service are destined for greatness.”

The MLK Community Service Award has been handed out since 1988 and honors those who are dedicated to serving the needs of humanity through demonstrated efforts in the community, according to organizers. They are instrumental in the cause of advancing human and civil rights, and mimic the values of the late Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Roy Bell, Southfield resident of 37 years, has worked with dozens of nonprofit organizations around the city. He’s a former councilman and Planning Commission member, and has worked with various boards, but believes that his 2006 Community Service Award came from a mindset as much as everything else.

“I was surprised that I received it because all I do is be me,” he said. “I was very humbled to receive it. I try to do what I think is right.”

For Bell, that means not seeing color in people, he said, and helping anyone who needs it. 

According to Robert Willis Jr., MLK Task Force member for the city of Southfield and chair of the group’s annual awards program, nominations are now open for the 2014 award.

To nominate someone, people can submit an essay of 300 words or fewer stating why their nominee is worthy of the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Community Service Award. Nominees must be at least 18 years of age, and all submissions must include the name, address and telephone number of both the person nominating and the person being nominated. 

Nominations may be mailed to Robert L. Willis Jr., 25140 Lahser, Ste. 261, Southfield, MI 48033 or emailed to by Dec. 31.

The Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Task Force Committee will also again recognize young activists in the MLK Youth Essay Contest.

The contest is open to all Southfield and Lathrup Village elementary (grades three and up), middle and high school students who can demonstrate how King’s message personally resonates with them.

“What is always so important (is) for youth to remember who Dr. King was and what he stood for. It was a message that transcended race, financial status, orientation, education level; it just represents all of what our country represents,” said Tonita Cheatham, task force committee member and chair of the essay contest. “What better way to commemorate what he stood for than providing this educational opportunity for students to express themselves and be creative, sharing with the community how this person has impacted their lives?”

This year’s question is this: “Good things happen when individuals do their part to implement positive change. Based on Dr. King’s message of all peoples working together to bring about positive change, what can you do — or what have you done — to make the world, your school or community a better place?”

Cheatham said that over the years, the essays always speak volumes about what MLK Day is all about.

“I’m amazed by some of the essays we receive,” she said. “These are kids that weren’t even here when Dr. King was alive — they have just heard about him, read about him or saw him on television, and this man still impacts their lives.”

A $200 U.S. Savings Bond will be awarded to one elementary, middle and high school student. Winning essays will also be published in the 2014 MLK Peace Walk Program Book, and the winners will be recognized at the program Jan. 20, 2014.

Each essay must contain the student’s name, school, home address, phone number and current grade on the front page or cover sheet. Middle and high school entries must be typed in a 12-point font, double-spaced on white 8 1/2-by-11-inch paper; elementary school entries may be handwritten.

Cheatham said that essays, which should be 250 words or fewer, will be judged on creativity, clarity, content and adherence to the theme.

All essays must be received via email or postmarked by Jan. 3, 2014. Entries should be mailed to Tonita Cheatham, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Task Force Committee, P.O. Box 2617, Southfield, MI 48037. Entries may also be emailed as an attachment in Microsoft Word to

Southfield was the first city in the state of Michigan to hold a Dr. King peace walk on Jan. 20, 1986, commemorating the first national observance of Dr. King’s birthday. The walk continues to grow in size and scope each year, with yearlong educational and community activities, according to organizers.

The 2014 MLK Peace Walk will take place Jan. 20, beginning at Hope United Methodist Church at 9:30 a.m., followed by a program at the Southfield Pavilion at 11 a.m.

For more information about the Community Service Award, call Robert L. Willis Jr. at (248) 690-5059. For more information about the essay contest, call Tonita Cheatham at (313) 505-1693.