MLK Commission to recognize inspirational Ohioans at Jan. 16 celebration

COLUMBUS — Governor Mike DeWine will join the Ohio Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Holiday Commission Thursday at the 35th annual Ohio Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Commemorative Celebration to recognize six Ohioans and one organization for their efforts to advance nonviolent social change. The noon ceremony will be held at Trinity Episcopal Church, 125 E. Broad St., Columbus.

“These Ohioans reflect a life similar to that of Dr. King’s, filled with a passion to create positive changes within their communities,” said DeWine. “Each of these awardees selflessly serve others and continue to make Ohio a great state.”   

The 12-member commission advocates Dr. King’s principles of nonviolent change and the pursuit of racial, social and economic justice, and annually hosts the award ceremony in January leading up to the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday.

“These outstanding Ohioans remind us that Dr. King’s dream of inclusion, social justice and service to the common good remains alive and is flourishing in communities across the state,” said Will Lucas, chair of the commission. “They are an inspiration to us all to join our neighbors in continuing to spread Dr. King’s message of equality for generations to come.”

Award recipients are as follows:

Brittinie Jermon of Cleveland – Educational Excellence Award

The Educational Excellence Award recognizes those who have demonstrated a personal commitment to scholarship and/or attainment of educational goals despite significant obstacles and have made progress in eradicating systemic barriers that impede the attainment of academic excellence.

A professional educator, Brittinie Jermon uses her spare time to help the Children’s Defense Fund Freedom Schools with their summer literacy and cultural enrichment program serving youth in grades K-12 in communities where academic enrichment is limited.

Jermon also volunteers to help youth who are part of the juvenile justice system and as a poet herself, she encourages juvenile offenders to read and write poetry as an outlet.

Her work goes beyond the classroom. Her nominator said she also has bought books for college students and groceries for the parents of middle schoolers.

“Whatever barrier that a student faces, Brittinie is willing to do her best to tear it down.”

An employee of the Greater Cleveland Neighborhood Center Association, she supervises and facilitates afterschool youth development activities at Max S. Hayes High School in the Cleveland Metropolitan School District.

Rev. Gerard Mirbel of Painesville – Governor’s Humanitarian Award

The Governor’s Humanitarian Award recognizes those who have given their time and service freely to those in need without question and often without recognition. This award honors quiet soldiers who promote the welfare of humanity and elimination of pain and suffering through their selfless service.

Mirbel is president of the Ministers Alliance Fellowship in Painesville where he is pastor of Miracle Revival Ministry Assemblies of God Church. He and his wife, Jacqueline, serve the less fortunate in a variety of ways through his church. They also do missionary work in his native Haiti.

His church provides spiritual and physical nourishment to their community. They provide a free breakfast and lunch each Sunday, hold free community dinners and distribute fresh produce twice a month, as well as bread and pastries weekly. They also operate an emergency food pantry.

In Haiti, the Mirbels helped replace a school destroyed in the 2010 earthquake with a temporary structure for about 350 students. The Mirbels and seven team members returned in 2013 to build a chicken farm, the profits of which are being used to pay teachers and eventually build a more permanent school building.

According to the nomination, “Rev. Mirbel, to many, is a refreshing light in their world of darkness, a light kindled by love in a world of selfishness, one frankly that is often filled with hatred and bigotry.”

MORTAR, Cincinnati’s Entrepreneurship Hub – Economic Opportunity Award

The Economic Opportunity Award recognizes individuals, municipalities, businesses or other organizations that seek to improve the quality of life for citizens in economically challenged areas through economic incentive programs.

MORTAR, a nonprofit resource hub for urban entrepreneurs, has been working since 2014 to create diverse communities by providing historically marginalized entrepreneurs access to resources to build or expand their dream business. Resources include its 15-week MORTAR Entrepreneurship Academy from which nearly 300 have graduated.

The nomination stated MORTAR’S presence in Cincinnati has contributed to increased minority business ownership, job creation, and a flourishing local economy — primarily in the rapidly developing Over-The-Rhine and Walnut Hills areas.

“MORTAR’s program also has a ripple effect in surrounding areas, serving as a magnet that draws in entrepreneurial students from all around Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky. By targeting underserved and redeveloping communities, MORTAR enables non-traditional, underrepresented entrepreneurs to use their inherent talents to improve economic development in their neighborhoods and positively participate in the rise of Cincinnati. Through education, guidance, and mentorship, MORTAR is effectively challenging and changing perceptions around how entrepreneurs are built and what their legacies will become.”

Dr. Anahi Ortiz of New Albany – Health Equity and Awareness Award

The Health Equity and Awareness Award recognizes exemplary community outreach and educational programs that serve an underserved population in the state.

Franklin County Coroner Dr. Anahi Ortiz has focused much of her 30-year medical career providing care to the underserved, first in her native New York City and now in Columbus where she has practiced since 1996. In Columbus, she worked as a pediatrician at Nationwide Children’s Hospital, Westside Community Health Center, and North Community Counseling Centers before becoming coroner in 2014. A proponent of volunteerism, she has volunteered locally at Helping Hands Free Clinic in Columbus and the New Albany Food Pantry. She has volunteered internationally with Timmy Global Health Care.

As coroner, her accomplishments related to health equity include ensuring several forms were professionally interpreted for families of decedents whose primary language is not English. She currently is working to reach out to the immigrant communities in central Ohio. Other accomplishments include instituting the Franklin County Drug Overdose Initiative and serving on the Franklin County Suicide Workgroup.

Dr. Ortiz’s nominator praised her highly for educating Latinos and other minorities regarding health and well-being and for using every opportunity to address issues related to health equity and drug overdoses. 

“She also educates those in positions of authority about the realities of new Americans, immigrants, migrants and refugees … and hoping for more empathy toward the complexity of their lives and challenges.”

Veronica Sims of Akron – Community Building Award

The Community Building Award recognizes individuals or organizations who have made significant contributions toward building a sense of unity among Ohio citizens.

Veronica Sims has committed nearly 30 years to serving the greater Akron community through her public service, professional life and volunteer work.

A newly appointed member of the Summit County Council, she previously served on the Akron City Council and Akron Public Schools Board of Education. She also worked in various positions for Akron Summit Community Action.

Through her “Cooking, Gardening and Conversations with Momma-Nem” initiative she has taught thousands of Akron residents about healthy eating and the importance of gardening. She uses such initiatives to facilitate dialogue about community challenges.

Sims is founder of “Let There Be Peace” ministry and creator of the “Peace Talking with My Sisters” forum, a talk series aimed at helping women find God’s divine peace in the midst of challenging circumstances.

Her nominator praised her for continually engaging the community in discourse on issues affecting Akron, including public health, economic development and gun violence.

“Recognizing the adverse impact gun violence has on the city of Akron, Mrs. Sims has made it her mission to advocate for nonviolence and collaborate with local organizations and government agencies to find solutions to the epidemic of violence in Akron.”

Rev. Dr. Jack Sullivan, Jr. of Columbus – Social Justice Award

The Social Justice Award recognizes significant contributions to achieving justice for individuals or communities, including contributions made through the legal, legislative and governmental systems as they apply to the more vulnerable elements of our society.

Rev. Dr. Jack Sullivan, Jr. is Executive Director of the Ohio Council of Churches. The organization represents the largest and most diverse group of Christians in Ohio, encompassing 4,000 congregations and two million members. The Ohio Council of Churches’ three priority areas are anti-racism, building relationships- and social justice/anti-poverty.

The nomination praised Dr. Sullivan’s leadership of the council for providing “catalyst partnerships with Ohio efforts to stop executions and promote racial justice.”

A global humanitarian and life member of both the NAACP and Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc., Dr. Sullivan currently also serves on the boards of three anti-death penalty organizations – and the France-based World Coalition Against the Death well as Journey of Hope: From Violence to Healing and Death Penalty Action.

Billy Joe White of Zanesville – Cultural Awareness Award

The Cultural Awareness Award recognizes an appreciation for diversity and evidenced skill in building and maintaining harmonious cross-cultural relationships.

White is making a difference the best way he can — by offering to cover up tattoos of hate speech and imagery free of charge.

The tragic events of the white supremacist rally held in August 2017 in Charlottesville, Va., made White realize the role that people like him — white men, many from poor, rural areas – play in race relations.

White’s invitation to “bring me your mistakes” not only helps remorseful individuals heal from their past but has sparked conversation in the community.

The nomination praised White for “…calling on his community to understand their faults and let him help them ‘erase the hate’ and move into a more understanding, loving future.”

However, his work hasn’t stopped at his Red Rose Tattoo studio in Zanesville. In the Emmy-nominated documentary short film, Beneath the Ink, White worked with director Cy Dodson, a Zanesville native, to shed light on racism and white supremacy in the United States and in Zanesville in particular.

“Like Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., White understands that choosing kindness, forgiveness, and light can help heal the broken connections that lead to hate.”

The Equal Opportunity Division of the Ohio Department of Administrative Services provides administrative support to the Ohio Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Holiday Commission.

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