State of Georgia celebrates Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., marking 39th annual tribute to his life and legacy

The State of Georgia today held its 39th celebration of its native son, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. at the State Capitol.  Hosted by the Martin Luther King, Jr. Advisory Council, the event was marked by remarks from Governor Brian P. Kemp, Lieutenant Governor Burt Jones, and Speaker of the House Jon Burns.  Representative Billy Mitchell was the Master of Ceremonies.  Members of the General Assembly and Department of Community Affairs Commissioner Christopher Nunn were also in attendance.

Governor Kemp presented a proclamation calling on Georgians to engage in community service projects to mark the holiday, and officially declaring Monday, January 15, 2024 as Martin Luther King, Jr. Day in Georgia. 

Ms. Yolanda Renee King, the only grandchild of Dr. King, delivered the keynote address.  She delivered moving remarks about the importance of living out principles of nonviolence that her grandfather championed. 

“He provided the entire world with voluminous lessons of the power of nonviolence to make a way out of no way. As Georgians, we can all take pride in in Martin Luther King, Jr.’s historic contributions and accomplishments,” she said.  “Even with all of the racial segregation of our past, he was able to sow the seeds of interracial brotherhood and sisterhood in the red clay of our state.”  She reminded Georgians that even in politically divided times “that we can set a different tone.  A tone of mutual respect, courtesy, and friendship.”

As part of this year’s tribute was in collaboration with the King Center’s 2024 Holiday Theme, “It Starts with Me: Shifting the Cultural Climate through the Study and Practice of Kingian Nonviolence.”  As part of the annual ceremony, the Council recognized five notable Georgians for their that aligns with this theme.

The 2024 Martin Luther King, Jr. Advisory Council Awardees are:

Ariel Shaw

Ms. Shaw was awarded the Rita Jackson Samuels Award, named in honor of the trailblazing equal rights advocate and businesswoman, is given annually to an exceptional individual or organization in recognition of their commitment to empowering women in business and in the community.  Ms. Shaw is an award-winning businesswoman, author, women’s business advocate, and small business champion. She is founder of Southern Crescent Women in Business, Inc., a member-based organization that seeks to provide foundational support for women-owned businesses throughout the Southern Crescent, through education, empowerment and funding, with chapters in four counties.

LaDonna Hampton

Ms. Hampton was awarded the Andrew J. Young Humanitarian Award, named in honor of former Atlanta Mayor, Congressman and Ambassador to the United Nations, is given annually to a remarkable individual or organization in recognition of their pursuit of universal human rights and social justice. LaDonna Hampton is an advocate for mental health and literacy who feels that self-improvement and encouragement are important ways to foster success in daily life. She worked as a youth service assistant and library assistant for the Clayton County Library System. She serves as a youth and peer mentor, organizes the Juneteenth Freedom Festival, and organizes the Fall Unity Festival.

Bishop Reginald Jackson

Bishop Jackson received the Dr. Joseph E. Lowery Civil Rights Award, named in honor of the iconic minister and founding member of the SCLC, is given annually to an outstanding individual or organization in recognition of their unwavering advocacy for leadership development in the fight for civil rights. Bishop Reginald Jackson is the presiding prelate of the Sixth Episcopal District of the African Methodist Episcopal (A.M.E.) Church which encompasses over 500 churches in the state of Georgia. He has served as the chairman of the Social Action Commission of the A.M.E. Church and is the current chairman of the Commission on Colleges, Universities and Seminaries.

The Honorable Calvin Smyre

Former Representative Smyre received the John Robert Lewis Lifetime Achievement Award, named in honor of the civil rights leader and seventeen-term Congressman from Georgia, is given annually to an extraordinary public servant in recognition of their career-long commitment to support equality and education for all.  He has served as a business executive, state legislator, community and national leader, and nominated for ambassadorship on behalf of the United States. Beginning as a community organizer and director of the “War on Poverty” program in Columbus, Georgia, Smyre has risen to positions of international affairs.

In addition to a career in banking, Smyre was elected to the Georgia House of Representatives in 1974 at 26 years of age, where he served until 2022, earning the moniker “Dean of the House.”

Calvin Smyre authored numerous significant pieces of legislation in the House of Representatives, including bills changing the state flag and making Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday a state holiday. His willingness and ability to work across the aisle and with members of different backgrounds built trust and political alliances not common today.

Omotayo Alli

Mrs. Alli is also a recipient of the John Robert Lewis Lifetime Achievement Award.  Mrs. Alli serves as Executive Director of the Georgia Public Defender Council, a post she has held since March 2020 after an appointment from Governor Brian Kemp. She is the first woman and first person of African heritage to serve as Executive Director of the GPDC. In this role, she has worked tirelessly to enhance indigent defense services, preparing GPDC for the emerging needs of clients, communities, and 21st-century courts.

At GPDC, Mrs. Alli prioritizes support for frontline trial-level services for clients and addresses underlying factors that precipitate court involvement. She has enshrined equity between public defenders and district attorneys for the first time in Georgia history. Under her leadership, GPDC raised rates for assigned counsel, launched a one-of-a-kind special mitigation team, opened eight regional conflict offices, and launched a traveling monthly training sessions.

The Martin Luther King, Jr. Advisory Council was created by the Georgia General Assembly to promote the legacy and nonviolent principles of Dr. King in 2011.  The Council’s nine members are supported by the Georgia Commission for Service and Volunteerism and the Department of Community Affairs.  The Council promotes and plans statewide activities to further its goals.  The Council is chaired by Representative Billy Mitchell, with Vice Chair Valencia Stovall.  Other members include Timi Jafojo, Senator Tonya Anderson, Barbara Harrison, and Commissioner Christopher Nunn.