MLK Gala honors Dr. King’s legacy, inspires change in community

Photo from the 2024 MLK Gala hosted at Utah Tech University Jan. 11. During the gala, not only were the 2024 Drum Major Award recipients announced but this Gala honored those who dedicate themselves to uplifting their communities and fostering positive change in the spirit of Dr. King’s dream. Abigail Byington| Sun News Daily

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Utah Tech University held the fourth annual MLK Gala Jan. 11 in honor of Martin Luther King Jr. and the legacy he left.

The theme of the event was “It Starts with Me,” a call to action for members of the community to emulate King’s work and spirit.

“The idea encapsulates that our individual actions have the power to create change,” said Valeria De La O, events and promotions coordinator. “Positive change is possible through our own actions.”

King once said: “If you want to say that I was a drum major, say that I was a drum major for justice. Say that I was a drum major for peace. I was a drum major for righteousness. We all have the drum major instinct.”

The gala reminded those in attendance to honor King’s legacy and be their own drum major. It started with a three-course southern-inspired dinner and music played by the St. George Jazz Band. During the dinner, Tasha Toy, assistant vice president of campus diversity and senior equity and inclusion officer, and Interim University President Courtney White spoke about the legacy that King left.

“Every individual’s actions and decisions have the power to initiate positive change and make a difference in various aspects of our life,” Toy said in her speech.

During the gala, Toy also announced the three winners of the Drum Major Award.

“The Drum Award is an award to recognize community members who are leading the charge for social justice in the community,” said Mike Nelson, director of the Center for Inclusion and Belonging.

The award embodies the “It Starts with Me” event theme and is awarded to community members, students and faculty who emulate and selflessly perform daily acts of service to make our community a better place.

These awards were given to Dannielle Larkin, St. George City councilwoman; Susan Ertel, an associate professor of English; and Benjamin Welch, a senior marketing major from Las Vegas.

Welch, award recipient and nontraditional student, said: “I want to use my privilege to help other groups. I try and elevate other voices and bring them into leadership to diversify important voices.”

The celebration also included a Day of Service Jan. 13 to honor King’s striving for change as well as support members of the community.

Nelson believes there are multiple ways to honor King’s legacy and said: “Being an engaged citizen, for me, encompasses a lot of things. But one is being connected to the community through service works and nonprofits. Being actively involved in local elections and what’s really going on in your community, because you have a voice to make changes.”

The Utah Tech MLK celebration started in 2018, but this is the first year it was opened to the public. De La O said over 124 people were in attendance.

All the proceeds from ticket sales and donations go to the Trailblazer High Need Opportunity Scholarship, and opening the event to community members invited more donors.

The Trailblazer High Need Opportunity Scholarship is a scholarship for students who are unable to pay for tuition due to life’s circumstances. The scholarship allows students to focus on school without having to worry about living expenses and tuition.

People can all make changes and be heard. This celebration honors community examples of that and encourages us all to be the change.