Honoring MLK Jr.’s Drum Major Legacy: Innovative Pathways to Success

More than a dozen people stand on either side of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos displaying their award certificates.To honor the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., earlier this month the U.S. Department of Education hosted the Honoring MLK Jr.’s Drum Major Legacy: Innovative Pathways to Success event. Honoring Dr. King at this time held even more significance because the following day was the 50th anniversary of his assassination, which shook the world on April 4, 1968. Although his fight for justice and peace was cut short, celebrating his legacy reminded us what it means to be persistent and righteous leaders for change, especially for the benefit of our youth in communities and schools across the nation.

Recognizing the Drum Major Spirit

ED’s Center for Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships and the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for African Americans honored members of communities across the nation who have upheld Dr. King’s legacy through their extraordinary everyday acts of service, especially benefiting youth and education. These distinguished honorees received the 2018 MLK Jr. Drum Major Innovation Service Award.

As Dr. 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.” The award recipients demonstrated the drum major spirit in their own way, whether as a school administrator, faith leader, community leader, parent or other engaged leader.

“You Matter”

One award recipient who really touched the hearts of audience members shared his story of a trying educational journey, overcoming life challenges and achieving a purpose-driven life. Stacey L. Young, now a college professor, author, radio host and founder of a community organization, did not have a traditional educational experience. After barely graduating high school and dropping out of college – twice – he now has a bachelor’s and two master’s degrees.

Mr. Young spoke of the importance of engaging with students in the classroom and getting to know them beyond test scores. He credits his ability to stand with us today, to tell his story and to give back to students, to someone once telling him, “You matter.”

The idea that students need to know that they matter – that their education matters and that we are willing to address their specific needs to help them succeed – was one of the greatest takeaways of this event. Mr. Young explained that if he had more educational supports, engagement and options while struggling in school, it would not have taken him as long to finish and achieve in school and through postsecondary education.

Speed Mentoring for Students

The last session of the event was tailor made for the students who joined us. Speed Mentoring for Students matched each student with six professionals. Students were able to voice their opinions about how the school system can better serve them, as well as utilize this network of established professionals.

About 10 people sit on chairs in a circle in a room in which other similar groups are situated. One of those in the circle is a female high school student. The others are all adults (male and female).Some of the questions the students posed related to how to strengthen relationships between educators and students. Students also received advice about how they can make a change for the better on their respective campuses.

For instance, Joshua, a high school junior from Maryland, really soaked in the discussion. Rather than simply collecting cards and exchanging emails, he challenged the professional educators of the group.

He offered his advice for how teachers could better engage their students. He also participated in a discussion regarding how college students could help to affect change on their campuses.

This session ended with each adult panelist offering a piece of advice to the student in their group. Xavier Richardson, Executive Vice President and President of Foundations of Mary Washington Healthcare, who had taken a genuine interest in some of the comments Joshua made, explained the importance of networking to Joshua and challenged the student to use some of the business cards that he received that day.

Secretary DeVos Congratulates the Recipients

U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos joined the award recipients on stage to deliver closing remarks. The Secretary congratulated the 2018 MLK Jr. Drum Major Innovation Service Award recipients and thanked them for honoring the legacy of Dr. King through their contributions to youth and their communities.

She shook hands and took pictures with each of the award recipients as well as with the student participants.

One program attendee who was especially pleased by the presence of Secretary DeVos was Dr. Annie Mable McDaniel Abrams, a civil rights leader and retired educator from Arkansas. Dr. Abrams was pleased to share her experiences about growing up during the civil rights movement and the progress that she has seen over time in education. But she also acknowledged there is still work to be done.

Dr. Abrams expressed her belief in the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the responsibility we all have to continue to provide quality educational opportunities for our youth, even as times change. Dr. Abrams and Secretary DeVos discussed the meaning of this event as they stopped for pictures on stage.

The Honoring MLK Jr.’s Drum Major Legacy: Innovative Pathways to Success event was truly impactful and allowed us to honor the amazing work that is being done to support the education of our youth and those who are committed to their achievement. We appreciated the opportunity to honor MLK Jr.’s legacy, inspire participants and engage with students.


Naya Patterson and Freddy Ryle are student interns for the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for African Americans.