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Stephens honors four for activism

Julia Robinson photo
Martin Luther King Jr. Awards honorees Lorenzo Lawson, center, and Patrick McMurry of Love INC, right, applaud the reading of the poem “Resistance” by Krysten Hill at a presentation ceremony last night in Windsor Auditorium at Stephens College.

Stephens College President Wendy Libby said she always enjoys the annual Martin Luther King Jr. Award Convocation at the college. But on the eve of a historic presidential inauguration, Libby said last night, she couldn’t help but choke up during speeches honoring four local activists.

To open the awards ceremony, organizers played a video of King’s April 3, 1968, "I’ve Been to the Mountaintop" speech that he gave in Memphis the day before he was assassinated.

Each year, the college honors community activists who "embody the principles and human values reflected in the work of Dr. King - multicultural harmony, peace, leadership, service and high ethical standards." The award has been given every year for about the past 15 years, said Amy Gipson, vice president of marketing at Stephens.

Honorees are selected by a committee after receiving nominations from the Stephens community. This year’s honorees were Verna Harris-Laboy, Lorenzo Lawson, Stephens College senior Miranda Arens and Love In the Name of Christ, or Love INC, of Columbia.

Harris-Laboy received the first award of the evening. Libby described her as "MIZ," an acronym for "motivated, inspired and zealous."

"She lives out these characteristics in community projects," Libby said.

Harris-Laboy founded The Ladies Night Out at Worley Street Manor 2˝ years ago in her home, where women were treated to home-cooked meals and support. The group outgrew her house and now is sponsored by Love INC at the Calvary Baptist Church.

"I am humbled and pretty emotional standing in the shadow of such a great man," Harris-Laboy said, fighting back tears and accepting her award. "I was just a little girl when" King "was assassinated. I do indeed stand in his shadow because I never had to protest. I had the door kicked down for me."

Lawson, senior pastor and founder of Chosen Generation Ministries, called receiving the award "not ironic, but kind of strange" because a Stephens student was the first to "witness" to him "about the Lord."

"She never gave up, and as a result I’m standing before you today," he said.

Lawson also is the founder and president of the men’s support group The Chosen Ones and is a member of the Columbia Vision Commission. In his acceptance speech, Lawson alluded to King’s Memphis speech, saying Obama’s inauguration is a reason to celebrate "reaching the promised land," but work needs to continue to alleviate poverty, which he compared to the Walls of Jericho.

"We haven’t gotten all the way there yet," he said. "We still have that wall, and it will take all of us fighting to try and tear those walls down."

Love INC President Patrick McMurry accepted the third award on behalf of the organization. During his speech, he thanked Libby and Stephens College for encouraging a "concept of a culture of compassion" through its "10 Ideals."

The final award was given to Arens, a marketing, public relations and advertising major at Stephens and president of the campus chapter of the American Humanics Student Association. The organization is for students interested in management of not-for-profits and focuses on raising awareness of human trafficking, Libby said.


Reach Jenna Youngs at (573) 815-1733 or jyoungs@columbiatribune.com.


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