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Cindy McCain, ASU student named 2018 ASU MLK Jr. servant-leadership awardees


Cindy McCain and Evvan Morton will be honored at the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Breakfast Celebration on Jan. 18 at the Memorial Union on ASU's Tempe campus.

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January 03, 2018

Two Arizona women with a passion for philanthropy have been selected as the 2018 Community Servant-Leadership awardees as a part of Arizona State University's 33rd annual Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration, for their influential work in the community.

Cindy McCain and Evvan Morton will be honored at the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Breakfast Celebration on Jan. 18 at the Memorial Union on ASU's Tempe campus.

The awardees were selected by the ASU MLK Jr. Committee for their servant leadership: a philosophy of serving first, then leading as a way of expanding service.

Cindy McCain, Servant-Leadership Award

McCain was stopped at a gas station when she noticed two teenage girls standing outside the convenience store. As she pumped her gas, McCain saw from afar that the girls looked frightened and lost. There was a man standing behind them, almost out of sight. That’s when she realized human trafficking was taking place right before her eyes — in Yuma, Arizona.

Experiences like this drive McCain in her fight against human trafficking. As this year’s MLK Jr. Servant-Leadership Awardee, she will be honored for her significant and interdisciplinary efforts to fight the heinous crime.

“I watched the police come and get that guy and save those two girls,” she recalled. “Every ounce of work I’ve done was worth it that day.”

McCain said her efforts truly began when Arizona was awarded the Super Bowl for 2015, and she used the event’s broad public reach to shed light on the state’s growing human trafficking problem. The result was a greater awareness and more activism throughout the state and country, she said.

In leadership roles such as chair of the McCain Institute Human Trafficking Advisory Council and co-chair of the Arizona Governor’s Council on Human Trafficking, McCain has worked to reduce human trafficking around the world, spread awareness and improve victims’ lives. 

“The human rights violation that human trafficking is and does to human beings is not only a violation, but it’s simply inhumane,” McCain said. “It just is something that to me, I found it unbelievable when I realized it was going on in my own country. A country that I thought, and still do think, is the best in the world — that somehow this could be taking place.”

Like Martin Luther King Jr., McCain expands upon her strong leadership with service.

“It’s difficult to me to completely understand the issue unless you get your feet dirty. You don’t have to travel overseas or spend money, but it’s about seeing firsthand, out on the streets, exactly what’s going on,” she explained.

In Greece and Turkey, McCain taught refugees to identify signs of human trafficking and avoid falling prey to traffickers. She traveled the world to familiarize herself with the many facets of life affected by trafficking including law enforcement, health care, child welfare systems and the internet. 

In the future, McCain hopes to initiate interstate communication between law enforcement officers and educate communities about human trafficking.

She accepts this honor on behalf of the victims of human trafficking, she said.

“Serving and leading are two common core values you try to teach your children. Service to your country and your community,” McCain said. “You as the one serving always gain more than the people you’re trying to help.”

Evvan Morton, Student Servant-Leadership Award

Morton is an Arizona State University graduate student with a passion for environmental change and peer empowerment. She is the 2018 winner of the Martin Luther King Jr. Student Servant-Leadership Award and is working toward getting her master's degree and doctorate in sustainable engineering at ASU. 

“I began learning more about climate change and global warming specifically,” Morton said. “I just felt like there was more that needed to be done in that area because I just kept hearing about the problems, but I wasn’t hearing much about solutions in the field.”

Morton graduated from the University of Cincinnati for her undergraduate degree. She began noticing the impact government actions were having on the environment without knowledge of that impact.

“During my undergrad, I started getting more interested in renewable energy and climate change and things like that,” Morton said. “When I decided to go to graduate school, I just started doing Google searches for those different topics and I started learning more about sustainability as well. Every time I would search things like that, ASU kept popping up, so I knew that was a school I should apply to.”

Morton also finds value in leadership and empowering fellow students. She is the president of the Black Graduate Student Association at ASU. She has worked hard to bring new life into the organization.

“Evann has assumed the call for Black Graduate Student Association,” said Debra Crusoe, program coordinator for the dean of students.

The Black Graduate Student Association has been around since the 1960’s, and Crusoe has been the advisor for the program for 20 years. The organization currently has about 85 listed members. In the past, the organization has been less active, but Morton is reviving the organization as a place for black students to gain support.

“She’s just been ideal for the organization,” Crusoe said. “She’s there on the frontline of women in engineering. She’s just been really good support for underrepresented students in science.”

Morton started out as secretary for the organization and has made her way to president. She believes the organization is vital to assist students of color in finding a community on campus. 

“By being a minority group on campus, it can be overwhelming and it can be difficult feeling like you’re the only one that looks like you,” Morton said. “We want to create a space where you can find other people that look like you and know that you’re not alone and you can build community with them.”

She believes leadership is thinking of the whole of the group instead of oneself as an individual. She feels a deep sense of responsibility to the Black Graduate Student Association.

Morton believes having a strong sense of community can also foster better leadership and role models.

“I also know that there aren’t many women, let alone black women, in engineering fields or science fields,” Morton said. “It’s important to me to talk to other girls that may be interested in those fields, or even if they’re not, just to know that there are other black women in the field so that they can realize it’s a possibility for them as well.”

Morton looks up to Michelle Obama for her ability to connect to people and empower others to be their best. She appreciates her ability to relate to people and believes Obama uses her influence to make a difference. Morton also looks up to Condoleezza Rice and Hillary Clinton for their leadership and achievements. 

“I’m very interested in working in government because I’ve learned … that many of the decisions, specifically in scientific issues … pertaining to renewable energy and to climate change and energy development, are made by leaders that do not necessarily have knowledge in these fields.”

Morton continues to chase her goals. She is interested in working for the Department of Energy or the Department of State. She wants to continue to foster her fascination with renewable energy development to help countries to reduce their negative impact on the environment.

Catherine Hathaway contributed to this story.

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