Keeper of the Dream — speaker Jeff Johnson explores Dr. King’s legacy, achieving equity


Nicole Morsfield

Award-winning journalist Jeff Johnson delivers the keynote address at the 27th annual Keeper of the Dream scholarship awards celebration on Jan. 21, 2019. Johnson spoke about Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous speech and the differences between diversity and inclusion.

Nine students were awarded on MLK Jr. Day for their leadership roles and commitment to their academics and careers at the 27th annual Keeper of the Dream Scholarship Awards Celebration.

The event marks the start of African American Celebration Month. The Keeper of the Dream award, which was first given to students in 1993, goes to students who exhibit the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s legacy through their leadership, academic achievement and devotion to diversity.

Award-winning journalist and communication specialist Jeff Johnson was the event’s keynote speaker and spoke about the significance of MLK Jr. Day and how King’s reputation is bigger than his “I Have a Dream” speech.

Johnson has worked in communication, influencing a private, public, and entertainment clientele. He also regularly contributes to the Rickey Smiley Morning Show, and he has interviewed former President Barack Obama and Secretary Hillary Clinton for BET News. He co-wrote Steve Harvey’s book, “Act Like a Success, Think Like a Success.”

While delivering the keynote address, Johnson defined “dream” as an acronym: “Delivering Revolutionary Equity And Mastery.” He said it’s important for universities to have a dedication to community and equity.

“Community and equity should be beyond diversity and inclusion,” Johnson said. “Because when you create community, not only are you inserting people into various levels of your infrastructure when you create community, you’re creating a place where all of those people feel comfortable being different.”

The Keeper of the Dream award recognizes students that fight to establish community standards that acknowledge differences.

The nine students who received the award this year also were awarded $5,000 scholarships.  Sponsors for the event were Flagstar Bank, the KeyBank Foundation, Autoliv, Saint Joseph Mercy Oakland, Beaumont Health, the Lynne and Lia McIntosh Scholarship, the Marshall Family Scholar Foundation, the Oakland University Credit Union and the Oakland University Alumni Association. Willis Towers Watson was the Keeper of the Dream vision sponsor.

Johnson addressed current nationwide issues, saying King truly became a threat to officials once he pushed his focus to a larger scale, and his endeavor to help overcome struggles with poverty is more than his “I Have a Dream” legacy of a united country.

“How dare we, in the name of celebrating a man, celebrate who he’s not, in the name of making us feel comfortable about what we don’t do?…” Johnson said. “And how many of us as leaders sometimes feel stuck because the things we have been saying often put us in a box with other people, and we don’t often feel like we can evolve. I want these young leaders to know you can evolve tomorrow from what you said yesterday.”

Omar Brown-El, senior director for the Center for Multicultural Initiatives (CMI), said the CMI team is happy to see so many students being awarded for their hard work.

“Students are being recognized as leaders here on our campus, in terms of diversity, equity and inclusion,” he said. “The students are in line with trying to keep Dr. King’s dream alive. We are very happy for our student recipients this year, as we always are.”

Johnson said in an academic environment, King’s commitment to justice lives on through the things students do to find excellence.

“I think King’s legacy transcends no matter where you are,” he said. “I think he was very clear about making sure you have a standard of excellence and a commitment to justice, so you don’t have to have any formal education to do that. Doing that at a campus hopefully is about learning the level of mastery in a certain area that you can carry not only that mastery, but a sense of justice with you.”

The 2019 Keeper of the Dream award recipients are: Julia Alexander, Flavio Di Stefano, Ernesto Duran-Gutierrez, Ghazi Ghazi, Gicentroy Henry III, Benjamin Lane, Dezirae Robinson, Destinee Rule and Chukwuebuka Unobagha.