UA Student, Instructor to be Honored at Realizing the Dream Banquet

(Left to right) Marissa Navarro, Dr. Ellen Griffith Spears and the Rev. Frank Dukes are the 2018 Legacy Award recipients.

University of Alabama junior Marissa Navarro and Dr. Ellen Griffith Spears will be honored alongside civil rights pioneer the Rev. Frank Dukes at the annual Realizing the Dream’s Legacy Banquet Jan. 12.

Navarro, of Grand Rapids, Michigan, will receive the Horizon Award that is presented to a young adult who possesses outstanding vision and hope that promotes social justice, equality and peace. As a freshman, she founded the Hispanic-Latino Association. Navarro says she wanted to create a “familia” on campus that would provide a safe and inclusive environment for not only Hispanic/Latino students, faculty and staff, but for anyone who felt left out.

“In the 1966 telegram that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. sent to Cesar Chavez, he noted the importance of acknowledging the struggles of others,” said Navarro. “We often get caught up in what is important to our community, and we forget to talk to others about their experiences. I try to keep that in mind when dealing with issues.”

Spears, UA associate professor in New College and the department of American studies, will be honored with the Call to Conscience Award that goes to an individual who provides leadership and courage. She is the author of the award-winning book “Baptized in PCBs: Race, Pollution, and Justice in an All-American Town,” which documents Anniston’s civil rights history and how it tied into the chemical company Monsanto dumping harmful pollutants in a predominately African-American and blue-collar part of town that resulted in a legal battle between residents and the company in the 1990s. Spears credits King’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail” as an inspiration.

“The essay’s iconic charge to challenge injustice really woke me up,” said Spears. “It serves as a reminder to those of us who may have grown into a comfortable life that change is urgently needed and that it requires everyone to get involved.”

Dukes, of Fairfield, Alabama, will receive the Mountaintop Award, a lifetime achievement award presented to an individual who has demonstrated an unyielding commitment to the dream of King. He created the Selective Buying Campaign of 1962 and was instrumental in organizing the Voter Registration Drive of 1960 and Easter Sunday March of 1963. He worked with King for many years and says courage and selfless dedication best describe his friend.

“King was the living personification of the poem ‘If’ by Rudyard Kipling,” said Dukes. “He could walk with kings and not lose his common touch. Witnessing his ability to think, strategize and execute continue to help me to this day.”

The Legacy Banquet will get underway at 6:30 p.m. in the Bryant Conference Center’s Sellers Auditorium. Actor, producer and humanitarian Danny Glover will be the featured speaker.

The University of Alabama, the state’s oldest and largest public institution of higher education, is a student-centered research university that draws the best and brightest to an academic community committed to providing a premier undergraduate and graduate education. UA is dedicated to achieving excellence in scholarship, collaboration and intellectual engagement; providing public outreach and service to the state of Alabama and the nation; and nurturing a campus environment that fosters collegiality, respect and inclusivity.