SCHENECTADY — Dr. Martin Luther King's dream is alive and well in Schenectady County.
Winners have been announced for the annual countywide awards ceremony recognizing those with a penchant for social justice issues and community engagement.
Taking top honors at the Schenectady County Human Rights Commission 36th Annual Awards Breakfast on Thursday were:
- Individual: Denise Gonick: CEO and director of MVP Health Care;
- Group: My Brother’s Keeper: Schenectady and Schenectady Clergy Against Hate;
- Youth: Emily Willey-Aulet and Hannah Josovitz
- Justice: Schenectady Police Department Chief Eric Clifford
Awardees were nominated by their peers and honored for their “courage and commitment” to human rights, civil rights and social justice issues.
Four outgoing high school seniors took home awards for the MLK Coalition Scholarship Program: Jaiiya Hart, Elizabeth MacNeil, Lyndrell Randel and Abbass Taylor.
First-place winners received $1,000 from Rivers Casino & Resort. And in a first this year, the gaming company also awarded $500 to each of the five runners-up.
All students exhibited King's vision of social justice, said Schenectady County Human Rights Commission Executive Director Angelicia Morris, not only in words, but also in action.
“It’s about making them current leaders and future leaders,” Morris said of the scholarship.
Hundreds of representatives from area schools and nonprofits packed the Glen Sanders Mansion in Scotia for the early-morning event, an annual bash Morris referred to as the county’s version of the Oscars.
Spectrum’s Jo Dee Kenney served as co-host, introducing the dozens of nominees with Morris as a keyboardist provided an uplifting, swelling soundtrack.
The two recited a lengthy list of the efforts undertaken by nominees, ranging from work to foster tolerance in an era of divisiveness (Schenectady Clergy Against Hate) to My Brother’s Keeper’s efforts to mentor at-risk area students.
Altogether, over two dozen groups and individuals were nominated in the two-hour ceremony, which was frequently punctuated by moments of levity.
Morris said the sheer volume of people to thank, honor and otherwise recognize demonstrated the scope of people doing positive things in the community.