Chargers Recognized for Commitment to Advancing Martin Luther King, Jr.'s Vision and Legacy – University of New Haven News

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As part of the University’s MLK Celebration, several members of the University community who embody Dr. King’s ideals were honored for their dedication to making a difference in the University community and beyond.
February 4, 2022
By Renee Chmiel, Office of Marketing and Communications
As part of the culminating of events of the University’s weeklong MLK Celebration, the University community recognized several students, faculty, and staff members who embody the ideals of Martin Luther King, Jr. and who make a difference on campus and in their communities.
The MLK Celebration Committee selected the winners of the inaugural MLK Jr. Vision Awards as well as the initial recipient of the Philip H. and Susan S. Bartels Award for Advocacy, Leadership, and Service. Two students also received MLK Scholarships.
The weeklong celebration’s theme was “Call to Action: Renewing the Legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr.,” and it included a Day of Advocacy, performances, volunteer opportunities, and a t-shirt design contest, the winner of which was recognized at the event.
The Martin Luther King, Jr. Scholarship Awards were presented to Anta Fall ’23 and Katiushka Ruiz ’24. Presented annually to students who have achieved academic success, the award recognizes Chargers who embody the values that Dr. King lived by: equality, justice, and nonviolent activism. Fall and Ruiz each earned scholarships of more than $1,000.
A cybersecurity major, Fall is a member of the National Society of Black Engineers. She is committed to fostering diversity and inclusion in the field of technology. “I truly appreciate being selected to receive such a scholarship, as I can assure you it will be put to good use,” she said.
Ruiz, a criminal justice major, endeavors to be a law enforcement professional who will ensure that members of minority communities have support and know they have someone trustworthy who will defend them. “Words cannot describe the gratitude and humbleness I feel in this moment,” she said as she accepted her award. “Receiving this award is not only an honor but a symbol for those who have experienced racial injustice.”
The Martin Luther King, Jr. Vision Awards recognize members of the University community who demonstrate a commitment to Dr. King’s values and ideals. Presented to five members of the University community, the award recipients include two undergraduate students, a graduate student, a faculty member, and a staff member. Considered “unsung heroes” at the University, the recipients were nominated by their peers and colleagues.
Vision Award: Undergraduate
Adrielys Gomez ’22, an economics major; president and founder of the University’s Muslim Students Association; a diversity peer educator; and the USGA’s vice president of community, advocacy, and diversity said, “I am truly humbled and honored to be receiving this award. It is an even greater honor to be placed alongside past honorees who have paved the way for students like myself to be standing in front of you today.”
Mary Lippa ’23 is a devoted ally for the LGBTQ+ community and a strong advocate for mental health awareness. A wellness peer educator, a JEDI ambassador, and wellness liaison for the USGA, she serves as president of Happy UNewHaven, a registered student organization helping to dispel stigmas around mental health. She regularly places notes of encouragement around campus for community members to see. “Everything I do on campus started with a sticky note,” said Lippa, a psychology major, as she accepted her award. “Since I put the first note up, there have been so many people who have supported me.”
Vision Award: Graduate
Richard Concepcion ’20, ’22 M.A., a candidate in the University’s graduate program in community psychology, created the University’s Juvenile Justice Club and serves as president of the Community Psychology Club. An advocate for BIPOC youth, he is a graduate assistant for the Tow Youth Justice Institute’s Transforming Youth Justice Program.
As part of his acceptance speech, Concepcion discussed the impactful advocacy and community work he has done, including helping to coordinate a program providing information to local students about social issues they might face in the community.
“It was interesting to see many of these students were people of color and sharing their personal experiences of the injustices they may experience and finding ways to improve outcomes for youth like them,” said Concepcion. “There is no one right way to fix the problem…we must improve individuals’ perceptions of underrepresented communities and allow us to acknowledge the support they need through wraparound services for success and achievement.”
Vision Award: Staff
Zanaiya Léon ’18, ’20 MBA, assistant director for the University’s Myatt Center for Diversity and Inclusion and an active member of the Student Affairs Inclusion Committee, received the Staff Vision Award. When introducing Léon, Ric Baker, the University’s senior associate dean of students, described her as “resilient, pioneering, an advocate, and educator.”
Léon says she has long looked up to leaders such as Dr. King, and she says Martin Luther King, Jr. Day was actively celebrated in her home when she was growing up.
“The work of Dr. King and countless other leaders of the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 1960s is what allows me to stand before you today as a Black woman with multiple degrees, a job at a university in New England, with a sense of safety and peace, as these kinds of accomplishments were unheard of to so many during Dr. King’s life,” she said.
Vision Award: Faculty
The Faculty Vision Award was presented to Danielle Cooper, Ph.D., CPP, an associate professor of criminal justice and director of research for the University’s Tow Youth Justice Institute. An active member of the University’s Inclusion, Diversity, Equity, and Access (IDEA) Council, Dr. Cooper is a devoted mentor to her students who has an extensive research background in areas such as social justice and juvenile justice. In her acceptance speech, she encouraged the University community to think deeply, critically, and openly.
“I very much think deeply about the legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr., both how it is represented to us and misrepresented to us,” she said. “As you think critically, I encourage you to realize that the questions are important and to not feel threatened by them. Instead, welcome those questions. Invite yourself to ask more deep questions. Invite yourself to be in that discussion.”
Vision Award: Honorable Mention
Sofia Martinez ’22, a communication major, is the inaugural recipient of the newly created Philip H. and Susan S. Bartels Advocacy, Leadership, and Service Award. Named for two of the University’s most generous benefactors, the award is intended to play an important role in supporting the important work related to diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging (DEIB), both on campus and in the local communities. The generous support of the Bartels family has enabled students, through a variety of initiatives and scholarships, to play an active role in leadership and community service.
A first-generation student, advocate, mentor, and student leader, Martinez serves as president of the USGA. “Our path toward diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging is not done yet,” she said. “And it won’t be done by the time that I leave. But it is a fight worth taking on. It is worth finding your voice, using your voice, and helping others find their voices as well.”
As part of the University’s MLK Celebration, students had the opportunity to submit a design for a Martin Luther King, Jr.-inspired t-shirt as a way for students to celebrate through creativity what Dr. King represented.
Kiana White ’23, a business management major and the winner of the contest, was recognized as part of the event. Her design celebrating visionary Black voices was shared with the University community, and the t-shirt was distributed to students who took part in events as part of the MLK Celebration.
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As part of the University’s MLK Celebration, several members of the University community who embody Dr. King’s ideals were honored for their dedication to making a difference in the University community and beyond.
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