MURFREESBORO — Eleven humanitarian leaders were acknowledged Thursday, Feb. 16, for their good works at MTSU’s 21st annual Unity Luncheon in the Student Union Ballroom.
The Black History Month Committee and the Office of Intercultural and Diversity Affairs hosted the annual event, which honors unsung heroes for their contributions in the areas of education, black arts, community service, excellence in sports and civility. MTSU President Sidney A. McPhee made welcoming remarks and presented the statuettes to each honoree.
In his luncheon address before a crowd of more than 300 attendees, Tennessee Bureau of Investigation Director Mark Gwyn struck a theme of “doing the right thing.” The MTSU alumnus credited his family, some of whom were in attendance, in helping him become a productive citizen, starting with his career in law enforcement with the McMinnville Police Department.
“I’ve always been a firm believer that there’s a lot more good people in this world than there are bad,” said Gwyn. “It’s just (that) my calling is to protect those good people.”
Gwyn is on his third term as TBI director. For the past 13 years, he has been the only African-American director of a state bureau of investigation in the nation.
“For me, it’s a sense of pride, but it’s a sense of obligation,” said Gwyn. “I’ve got to represent a little better, and I’m OK with that … I don’t do it because I’m African-American. I do it because it’s the right thing to do.”
A fellow law enforcement veteran, former Smyrna, Tennessee, Assistant Police Chief Vernal Young, was one of the Unity Luncheon honorees.
“We started the first drug program here in Rutherford County,” said Young, an honoree for being an advocate of civility. “We went from primary schools to high schools … I really enjoy working with people.”
One of the community service honorees, Navita Gunter of Guthrie, Kentucky, has triumphed over both domestic violence and cancer. She was chosen for founding the Cervical Cancer Coalition of Tennessee.
“Really, it’s not for me,” Gunter said of her award. “It’s for the people that I’m really trying to help by sharing my story of survival. … That’s why I do it.”
Other honorees and their areas of recognition include:
- Bichaka Fayissa, a native of Ethiopia and a professor in MTSU’s Department of Economics and Finance, education;
- Jacqueline Jackson of Lexington, Kentucky, a retired MTSU Department of English professor, education (Jackson was unable to attend; MTSU English professor Frances Henderson accepted the award on her behalf);
- Evelyn James of Murfreesboro, a retired nursery school teacher and member of Ardent Workers of First Baptist Church, Murfreesboro, education;
- Carl Marable of Murfreesboro, the director of Second Chance Outreach Ministries, community service;
- Ernest Newsom of Murfreesboro, a clarinetist and psychologist, contributions to black arts;
- Albert Richardson Jr. of Murfreesboro, a community volunteer and humanitarian, community service;
- Revonda J. Rucker of Murfreesboro, a registered nurse and funeral director, community service;
- James Douglas Watkins of Murfreesboro, a former community school director and athletic mentor in Flint, Michigan, excellence in sports;
- Martha Womack of Murfreesboro, a community volunteer and humanitarian, community service.