2018 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Leadership Awards


Today, many of us take for granted that African Americans can stay in hotels, travel freely, use any public restroom, and eat at any restaurant. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and other civil rights leaders fought for these rights at a time when segregation was the norm.

The Martin Luther King Jr. State Commission recognizes individuals who embody Dr. King's life and work and to celebrate his spirit. The annual awards event, held on January 4, 2018, and hosted by the Martin Luther King Jr. State Commission, recognized twoyouth and two adult winners who are carrying on Dr. King's vision for civil rights, inclusiveness, social justice, diversity and an equal society for all people. It also recognized students who won state essay, poetry, and art contests.

Adult Leadership Award Winners 

Dionne Griffiths
  • Non-profit administrator for 11 years and volunteer in the Louisville community for over 9 years
  • Served in leadership roles as a volunteer for 6 years with the Louisville YMCA Black Achievers, a mentoring program for African American high school students
  • Graduated from Spelman college; Served as the first Acting President of the Louisville chapter of the National Alumnae Association of Spellman College from 2014-2016
  • Also graduated from the University of North Carolina-Greensboro
  • Griffiths has a long history of fighting for racial justice and gender equity through her published articles, advocacy, art as activism, and community leadership
Jeffrey Kennedy
  • Started non profit organization, "You Cannot Be What You Cannot See," that supports community schools and reached over 1,200 youth and adults from 2015-2016
  • Veteran who sponsored the Veterans' Day program at Fort Knox
  • Focuses on improving lives of others regardless of race
  • Volunteered 2,828 hours for several organizations including Room in the Inn, Mission Hope for Kids, You Cannot Be What You Cannot See Youth, Veterans' Day Awards Program, Brother to Brother, Derby City Cardinals Youth BAsketball, College View Alternative School
  • Provides training on conflict management and conflict resolution

Youth Leadership Award Winners 

Joseph McCord, John Harden High School
  • Serves as head junior deacon at his church, mentoring fellow junior deacons, assisting with events, church maintenence and outreach
  • Active in his school through participation in Better Education Through Achievement, Hardin High School Music program, and class Advisory Council
  • Serves his community by volunteering with Warm Blessing,The Soup Kitchen, Special Olympics, Helping Hand of Hope, and Signature HEalth at North Hardin
  • Selected to participate in Youth Leadership Hardin County, a program that provides students who display leadership potential an opportunity to learn about strengths and concerns of their community from community leaders
Merise Mwambayi, Paul Laurence Dunbar High School
  • Serves his community by​ mentoring elementary school students from a school with a high free/reduced lunch population and participating in the Transylvania University Pathways Program
  • Betters his school by participating in school clubs, encouraging students to do their best, and completing an internship
  • Active in his local youth group and volunteers time through his church to pack meals for Haitian citizens.
State Essay Contest Winners

1st: Qhovia Phillips, 8th grade, TK Stone Middle School

1st: Amadis Davis, 9th grade, North Hardin High School

1st: Emily Bechtel, 9th grade 

2nd: Ania Boutin, 9th grade, Mercer County High School
3rd: Madison King, 9th grade

State Poetry Contest Winners

1st: Kara Wall, 11th grade, Breckinridge county High School

State Art Contest Winners


1st: Jayden Ballard, 7th grade, Eminence Independent Schools


1st: Destiny Isabell Kallembach, 9th grad​e, Mayhurst Academy

1st: Brittney Newman, 12th grade, South Floyd High School, Floyd County

For more information, contact the Governor’s Office of Minority Empowerment at 502.564.2611 or Governor's Office of Minority Empowerment (kyome@ky.gov).