Jackson State University’s virtual MLK Convocation will be Friday, Jan. 14; Margaret Walker Center also will present 3 with ‘For My People’ awards

(JACKSON, Miss.) — Jackson State University associate professor Deidre L. Wheaton, Ph.D., will keynote the virtual 54th annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Birthday Convocation in JSU’s Rose E. McCoy Auditorium at 10 a.m. Friday, Jan. 14, sponsored by The Margaret Walker Center.

Keynote speaker Deidre L. Wheaton, Ph.D., is a scholar-teacher at Jackson State University with a concern for educational equity. Her research and interventions include broadening participation of minorities in higher education. (Photo by Charles A. Smith/JSU)

Due to coronavirus protocols, there will not be an in-person audience. However, the program will be livestreamed on the JSU Facebook page (@JacksonStateU).

Wheaton devotes her time to conducting research and teaching in the College of Education and Human Development. She also serves as the interim chair in the Department of Educational, Multicultural and Exceptional Studies. Her work reinforces her personal and professional commitment to create increased equity and access to high-quality educational experiences for all students, particularly those who are currently underserved. 

“My professional concern for educational equity,” explained Dr. Wheaton, “includes broadening participation of minorities in higher education, promoting career advancement and faculty development, examining the implications of race and racism in education and exploring evidence-based strategies for effective teaching, learning and assessment at minority-serving institutions.”

Wheaton holds academic degrees in American Culture with a focus on African Americans and Race in the 20th century (Ph.D. and MA) from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor; English (MA) from Jackson State University; and English with a minor in African World Studies (BA) from Dillard University, New Orleans. She is a native of Montrose, Mississippi.      

“This 54th MLK Convocation is a great opportunity for us to highlight the good work of one of our own at JSU,” said Robert Luckett, Ph.D., director of the Margaret Walker Center. “Dr. Wheaton represents both the spirit of this historic event and all the best qualities that Margaret Walker embodied during her tenure on the faculty here.”

Walker began the MLK Convocation at Jackson State to honor King just nine months after his assassination in 1968, making it one of the oldest celebrations of his life in the nation.

The Margaret Walker Center will also host a virtual program for its 27th annual “For My People” awards, sponsored by AARP Mississippi, at 6 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 13, 2022. 

This year’s awards ceremony will honor Natasha Trethewey, Aisha Nyandoro, and Dennis Dahmerfor their contributions to African American history and culture. The three recipients will have a virtual conversation with civil rights activist, scholar, photographer Dr. Doris Derby, and with the program’s moderator Dr. Ebony Lumumba, an associate professor and chair of the Department of English, Foreign Languages and Speech Communication at JSU.

The “For My People” awards are named after Margaret Walker’s classic poem, and past recipients have included James Meredith, Unita Blackwell, Robert Clark, Lerone Bennett, Andrew Young, Reena Evers-Everette and Charlayne Hunter-Gault. 

A Mississippian, Trethewey is the Board of Trustees Professor of English at Northwestern University. Awarded the Pulitzer Prize for her book of poetry Native Guard (2006), she served as the 19th Poet Laureate of the U.S. (2012-2014) and as the State Poet Laureate of Mississippi (2012-2016). 

Nyandoro and Dahmer will receive the For My People – Doris Derby Legacy Award. Derby made a lifelong commitment to defending human rights and training new generations under her tutelage as an activist, scholar, artist and educator. The award honors descendants of activists who continue the traditions of the social justice movements of the 1950s and 1960s. 

Nyandoro is the founder and CEO of Springboard to Opportunities and is the granddaughter of the late Dr. L.C. Dorsey, a longtime civil rights activist in Mississippi. Springboard provides strategic, direct support to residents of affordable housing through a service delivery model designed to improve quality of life and end the generational poverty trajectory. Nyandoro has received multiple honors, including recognition as a fellow of the W.K. Kellogg Foundation Community Leadership Network and Ascend at the Aspen Institute.

Dahmer is the son of Vernon Dahmer Sr., an NAACP activist who died defending his family from a 1966 Ku Klux Klan attack in Hattiesburg, Mississippi. Today, Dennis Dahmer owns Big Creole Farm at Kelly Settlement in Hattiesburg, where he tackles food justice by providing equitable access to healthy foods. He also played a key role in resurrecting his father’s murder case, resulting in the conviction of a Klan leader in 1998. 

The “For My People” awards will be available to view for free on the Margaret Walker Center Facebook and YouTube pages. For more information, contact the center’s staff at 601-979-3935 or mwa@jsums.edu.