Wake Forest students and faculty receive MLK award

The Building the Dream award-winners were honored at the annual MLK Celebration event

Christa Dutton, News Editor

 The 2022 Martin Luther King Jr. “Building the Dream” award winners were recognized at the MLK Celebration, hosted by Wake Forest University and Winston-Salem State University (WSSU). The annual co-sponsored event was held on Feb. 3 at K.R. Williams Auditorium at WSSU and honored the late civil rights leader. This year’s theme was “On Common Ground: Embracing Our Voices” and the keynote speaker was David Banner, an American activist, musician and record producer. Originally scheduled for MLK Day, the event was postponed because of inclement weather. 

According to a Wake Forest News press release, Building the Dream awards are presented to a professor, administrator or student from Wake Forest and WSSU who “exemplify King’s qualities and promote diversity within the community”. 

The winners from Wake Forest include two faculty members and two students. The student winners include Bea Pearson, a senior history major from Mount Holly, NJ, and Jacob Thomas, a senior biochemistry and molecular biology major from Greensboro, NC.

I’ve seen a lot of really powerful, amazing students, particularly Black women, who really trailblaze on campus, give back and serve to the utmost of their ability.

— Bea Pearson

Thomas, president of Wake Forest’s Black Student Association, was nominated in part because of his commitment to amplifying Black voices on campus and building community among Black students. 

“I make sure minority voices are heard comes through the different committees I’ve served on,” Thomas said. “I’ve served on the Student Life committee for three years now, and I’ve also worked on various other committees that are related to race, diversity, equity and inclusion (RIDE). On each one, I take a temperature check of the Black community on campus before I report back. I try to make sure my decisions align with things I think will better the experience for Black students.” 

Pearson was excited to be recognized as an advocate for justice and community service. 

“I want a more just society, liberation for Black people and to see an end to poverty, and those are all things MLK spoke about,” Pearson said. 

She continued: “I don’t believe in being lukewarm. I believe in being an extremist for love, as [MLK] put it. You have to pick a side in the fight against injustice, and I picked my side.” 

 For Thomas, “Receiving this award affirms that work in diversity, equity, race and inclusion is actually important to the university,” Thomas said. “There is also importance in the fact that the award is shared between students at Wake Forest and WSSU because it is important to have that intercampus connectivity.” 

He continued: “I want Wake Forest to feel like it’s a part of the greater community, and I want the individuals in the community to also feel that way.” 

Pearson was honored by her nomination because of her admiration toward former winners and MLK’s social justice work. 

“I’ve known a few of the past winners, particularly last year’s winner. Rue Cooper was like a mentor and big sister to me,” Pearson said. “I’ve seen a lot of really powerful, amazing students, particularly Black women, who really trailblaze on campus, give back and serve to the utmost of their ability.”

Ashley Hawkins Parham, Wellbeing Program manager, and Dr. Danielle Parker Moore, assistant professor of education and the executive director of the Wake Forest Freedom School, are the 2022 faculty and staff winners. 

Parham believes she was selected for the award in part because of her willingness to stand beside the marginalized and to amplify what they are saying. 

“I think part of it is being willing to, respectfully, amplify what folks of marginalized identities are already telling us,” Parham said. 

She continued: “As a white woman in 2022, it’s not my original idea that we need to be more equitable. I just try to advocate for and elevate the voices of people who are telling us we need change and how to make change. I’m going to stand behind the folks that are saying what they need, and I’m also going to say out loud what I think, always being in collaboration with those who have expertise and have a vision for how to make Wake Forest more equitable and inclusive.”

Moore was selected for this award primarily because of her leadership of the Freedom School, a free six-week-long literacy-based summer program for rising third through eighth-grade students. 

After working at Duke University’s Freedom School during her years as a graduate student, Moore wanted to create the same learning environment in Winston-Salem when she arrived here. 

Moore was surprised when she received the award, and she was proud the award brought recognition to the Freedom School, an initiative near to her heart. 

“I was blown away that someone nominated me because they thought what I’m doing is worthy of even being recognized in the same vein as [the work done by] Dr. King,” Moore said. “It is such an honor because [the Freedom School] has been a passion project for me. To see it come full circle almost five or six years later is a huge honor.” 

Moore was also extremely honored that her work is considered exemplary of Dr. King’s social justice work. 

“To see that anything I’m doing is remotely considered to be something that is building and reflecting his dream is an honor.”