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4 honored with ASU MLK Servant-Leadership Awards

Larry Fitzgerald Foundation among those cited for social justice work

Larry Fitzgerald shaking hands with ASU student at event

Fourth-year health care administration and policy student Jason Amoako-Agyei greets Larry Fitzgerald at ASU's annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration on Jan. 18.

January 18, 2024

Former Arizona Cardinals player Larry Fitzgerald made history on the football field, but on Thursday, he asked a crowd at Arizona State University to step off the sidelines and be intentional about creating history, just as Martin Luther King Jr. did.

“He chose to write a new history. Not to merely build history, but to lay a foundation for the future,” Fitzgerald said.

“He was an inspiration to my grandfather, who marched with him, and he continues to inspire me.”

Fitzgerald, a wide receiver who played 17 seasons with the Arizona Cardinals, spoke at the 39th annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration at Mountain America Stadium on Thursday, where the Larry Fitzgerald FoundationThe Larry Fitzgerald Foundation supports families affected by breast cancer and works toward equitable, healthy environments. was honored with the ASU MLK Community Servant-Leadership Award.

Fitzgerald thanked Danielle Frost, the executive director of his foundation.

“She is helping me to carve out the history we’re making as an enduring foundation,” he said.

2024 ASU MLK Servant-Leadership Award winners

Community Servant-Leadership Award
Larry Fitzgerald Foundation

Faculty Servant-Leadership Award
Jeffrey Wilson, associate dean of research and inclusive excellence and a professor in the W. P. Carey School of Business

Staff Servant-Leadership Award
Kenja Hassan, assistant vice president of cultural relations in the Office of Government and Community Engagement

Student Servant-Leadership Award
Jamelyn Ebelacker, master's of business administration student in the W. P. Carey School of Business

Fitzgerald was among four people honored on Thursday. The others were Kenja Hassan, who won the ASU MLK Staff Servant-Leadership Award, Jeffrey Wilson, who won the ASU MLK Faculty Servant-Leadership Award, and Jamelyn Ebelacker, who won the ASU MLK Student Servant-Leadership Award.

Hassan is the assistant vice president of cultural relations in the Office of Government and Community Engagement, a senior fellow at the ASU Foundation and producer of the African and African American Faculty and Staff Association newsletter, which includes regular updates on ASU’s LIFT InitiativeThe LIFT Initiative — for Listen, Invest, Facilitate, Teach — was created by ASU in 2020 to support Black students, faculty and staff and to accelerate an agenda of social justice at the university and in the wider community. .

Upon accepting her award Thursday, Hassan noted that 2024 will mark the 60th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act, which called for the end of discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex and national origin.

She told the story of how her father, who is white, was disowned by his family for marrying a Black woman.

“Hatred for Black people in the U.S. ran so deep that they weren’t allowed to swim in swimming pools that their dollars paid for because people said that they would contaminate them with dirt and disease,” she said.

One day, Hassan’s parents took her and her sister to her grandparents’ house, unannounced.

“We melted their hearts and spent every summer with them,” she said.

Ultimately, her grandmother expressed great remorse for her attitude decades before.

Hassan addressed the many schoolchildren in the crowd:

“Dr. King said hatred darkens life, but love illuminates it.

“You are already influencing. You are influencing your grandmothers and grandfathers and moms and dads. I want you to be the illuminator who builds history through love.”

Four people posing for photo holding awards
From left: ASU MLK Servant-Leadership Award recipients Larry Fitzgerald, student Jamelyn Ebelacker, staff member Kenja Hassan and Professor Jeffrey Wilson. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU News 

Wilson, associate dean of research and inclusive excellence and a professor in the W. P. Carey School of Business, has worked toward inclusion his entire career, including with the NCAA and Pac-12.

Wilson said he didn’t feel worthy of his award, compared with the sacrifices of King, who marched, went to jail and ultimately gave his life.

“He was prepared to go to jail, while I was afraid to stand up for what I thought was right at times,” Wilson said.

“As unworthy as I feel today, I want to challenge you to help me, help the university, help the community and help the state of Arizona to foster the roots, the branches and the leaves of the tree where we stand together for inclusive excellence,” he said. “Do not be afraid to take a stand.”

Ebelacker, a tribal member of Santa Clara Pueblo in New Mexico, is an artist, Peace Corps volunteer leader and MBA candidate in the W. P. Carey School of Business.

She referenced King’s visit to ASU in 1964, where he spoke about the Civil Rights Movement.

“He also touched on how all life is interrelated and we are all connected,” she said.

“For doing this work, there is a community, and each one of us, no matter how small an act of kindness or how profound your work in the community — all of that work shines a beacon and keeps us going. … We are interconnected.”

The breakfast celebration, which was one of several events sponsored by the MLK Committee at ASU, included the winners of the statewide poster and essay contests for K–12 students, several of whom read essays that they wrote.

The university holds MLK-related events year-round at all ASU sites, according to Colleen Jennings-Roggensack, vice president of cultural affairs at ASU, who served as the emcee of the event.

“ASU is one of only a handful of universities that celebrated Dr. King’s work long before we received the holiday,” she said.

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