Wheeling’s annual MLK Celebration will return this weekend to commemorate civil rights activism led by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in the 1960s. The event also honors and celebrates community leaders who live up to the ideals set forth by Dr. King through civic action and engagement.
Each year, the MLK Celebration is planned by a committee of community leaders co-chaired by Rev. Ignatius Hadi Sasmita, S.J. of Wheeling University and Ron Scott Jr., Director of Cultural Diversity and Community Outreach at the YWCA Wheeling. In preparation for this annual celebration, the committee members gather to plan an event that honors Dr. King’s legacy and celebrates those in the community working to make Wheeling a better community for all. The merging of history and celebration makes this event one that you won’t want to miss.
This year’s MLK Celebration includes a community march, interfaith service with a lineup of local speakers and an awards ceremony.
2022 MLK Award Recipients
The MLK committee gathers to nominate deserving community members for their Martin Luther King and Rosa Parks Awards each year. Both awards are given to people who help carry on the legacy of Dr. King and Rosa Parks through community service. Initially, only one award was given but has since grown to recognize two deserving recipients for each award category.
This year, four awards will be presented during an interfaith prayer service as the centerpiece of the celebration.
The 2022 MLK Award will be given to Wheeling residents James E. Martin and the late Rev. Daniel R. Mason. Martin was a standout candidate among the committee for his commitment to improving the lives of East Wheeling residents. Martin is a Vietnam veteran and a retired mail carrier for the U.S. Post Office. Martin worked for the post office for 40 years and was the only Black letter carrier from 1973-2011. He was also instrumental in restoring the integrity of the American Legion Post 89 – a mainstay in Wheeling’s Black community – after it had been declared a public nuisance in 2017. Martin is deeply committed to bettering his community and has helped raise thousands of dollars to provide college scholarships for minority students and other worthy causes through his involvement with the Elks Panhandle Lodge 74.
Rev. Mason, the former pastor of the Mount Zion Baptist Church of Triadelphia, worked with children for years helping them develop both academically and socially. He was called to become a minister in 1977 and spent his career as a pastor in Pennsylvania and Colorado before returning to Wheeling to serve as an assistant pastor at Wayman AME Church and, later, Mount Zion Baptist Church in Triadelphia. In addition to his pastoral service, Rev. Mason worked as a part-time program manager at the Laughlin Memorial Chapel. Rev. Mason’s award will be accepted by his wife, Susan Ford Mason.
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The 2022 Rosa Parks Award will be given to Wheeling City Councilwoman Rosemary Ketchum and the late Florence Washington. Ketchum was selected based on her dedication to helping Wheeling’s most vulnerable residents. In her role as Wheeling’s Ward 3 city council representative, Rosemary has used her position to legislate for vulnerable communities. As a former member of the Wheeling Human Rights Commission, she has worked on various issues, including racial justice, LGBTQ rights, fair housing and homelessness.
Florence Washington will be given the Rosa Parks Award posthumously for her accomplishments as an active volunteer and medical professional who was instrumental in establishing West Virginia’s first pulmonary rehabilitation program. Washington is a West Virginia Northern Community college graduate and the first respiratory therapy of color in the Ohio Valley. She was also a member of the Debora Temple #125 and served on the board of directors of Family Services of the Upper Ohio Valley. Florence’s daughter, Jessica Washington, will be accepting this award on behalf of her mother.
MLK Celebration Schedule
The MLK Celebration will begin on Sunday, Jan. 16 with a march from The Windmill on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Way at 2 p.m. Masks are strongly encouraged for those who attend. Following the march, there will be an interfaith prayer service at 3 p.m. at the Fourth Street United Methodist Church, located at 1060 Chapline Street. The service will include the awards ceremony for the Martin Luther King and Rosa Parks awards and a keynote address from West Virginia Sen. Owens Brown.
The celebration was originally slated to continue on Monday with a ceremony to recognize local students and the Martin Luther King Jr. essay and song contests winners. However, due to inclement weather in the forecast, this event will be postponed until further notice. To learn more about this year’s MLK Celebration, you can visit the Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration, Wheeling, WV on Facebook.
• Alex Panas is the Program Manager for Wheeling Heritage, where she works with artists, small business owners, and community stakeholders to provide technical assistance and create meaningful programs that enhance Wheeling. She also serves as the managing editor for Weelunk. Alex lives in St. Clairsville with her husband where they raise four cats and four spunky backyard chickens.