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Awards to honor Ohioans advancing MLK principles

Image of Ohio Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Holiday Commission with image of Dr. King on left side

COLUMBUS — Governor Mike DeWine will join the Ohio Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Holiday Commission Thursday for the 37th annual Ohio Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Commemorative Celebration to recognize exceptional Ohio individuals and organizations for their efforts to advance nonviolent social change. The ceremony will be livestreamed at noon at das.ohio.gov/mlk and rebroadcast on the Ohio Channel.

“These awards recognize exceptional leaders who work to bring their fellow Ohioans together,” said DeWine. “Thank you to these winners for honoring the legacy of Dr. King and for serving as role models in their communities.”

The 12-member Commission advocates Dr. King’s principles of nonviolent change and the pursuit of racial, social and economic justice, and annually hosts the award ceremony in January leading up to the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday. The theme of this year’s event centers on the Beloved Community, a phrase used often by Dr. King, and award winners were selected based on their work to build unity and find common ground in their communities.

“The Commission is honored to pay tribute to these exceptional Ohioans who truly reflect the values Dr. King advocated in his life and work,” said McKinley Brown, chair of the Commission. “In addition to their strong action as individuals to promote justice, equality and unity, they also appreciate the great power of community building to bringing nonviolent social change.”
Award recipients are as follows:

J. Averi Frost of Columbus - Individual Award
The Individual Award recognizes those who have made significant contributions toward building a sense of unity among Ohio citizens.

J. Averi Frost is a champion of minority-owned businesses and Executive Director of the Central Ohio African American Chamber of Commerce (COAACC) and founder of Microcosm Community Improvement Corp., which advocates for Black-owned businesses in Central Ohio.

She worked for several years with the Ohio Minority Business Assistance Center (MBAC) developing programming for small and minority business owners and helping them strategize for success. Prior to her work with the Columbus MBAC, she was on staff at the Central Ohio Minority Business Association.

Frost began leading COAACC in 2018 and in 2020, she began also working for the Columbus Urban League, leading the Minority Small Business Resiliency Initiative that works to connect businesses with resources.

“Ms. Frost's commitment to the success and sustainability of Black-owned businesses is helping to build a strong economic base for the entire community. She is helping all of us learn to define economic justice in new and innovative ways,” said her nominator.

Frost has been involved in several social causes, including serving as President of the Steering Committee of Black, Out, & Proud, Inc.; board member for the Community Capital Development Corp.; board chair for Mothers Helping Mothers, Inc.; as well as fundraising efforts for the American Cancer Society. She is a Columbus native and graduate of Denison University.

YMCA of Greater Cincinnati - Organization Award
The Organization Award recognizes organizations that have made significant contributions toward building a sense of unity among Ohio citizens.

The mission of the YMCA of Greater Cincinnati is to put Christian principles into practice through programs that build healthy spirit, mind, and body for all. The organization welcomes all without exception, and with a commitment to strengthening and uniting diverse communities.

Through collaborations with community and national partners, the YMCA of Greater Cincinnati launched the Better Us Initiative in 2020 as an embodiment of its mission to serve all. The initiative, which unifies the organization’s approach to racial equity work and aligns these efforts to its mission, began with a review of current offerings and a vision to expand its reach. Examples of this work include:

UNDIVIDED: The YMCA collaborated with the local nonprofit LivingUNDIVIDED on the UNDIVIDED program, which included cohorts of 30 participants and highlighted the voices and experiences of Black, Indigenous, and People of Color. The program was offered to YMCA staff, members, and community organizations and partners to reach as many as possible.

Teen programs: A relaunch of teen programs focused on racial and gender equity to support Boys and Young Men of Color. Included are a civic engagement program inspiring interest in state and local politics, activism and organizing, and political transparency and integrity; Black and Latino Achievers, a college-/career-readiness program providing students with the tools to develop social-emotional capacities and identify career paths; and 1:1 Reach and Rise Mentoring, a program using a therapeutic mentoring model to provide teens of color with individual mentoring, case management resources, and trauma-informed mental health counseling.

Central College Presbyterian Church of Westerville and Trinity Baptist Church of Columbus - Collaborative Effort Award
The Collaborative Effort Award recognizes any combination of individuals, communities, businesses, or other organizations that collectively have made significant contributions toward building a sense of unity among Ohio citizens.

Central College Presbyterian Church, located in the Columbus suburb of Westerville, is a predominately white congregation founded in 1843, and Trinity Baptist Church, founded in 1924, is a predominantly African American congregation located in an urban area of Columbus.

In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic and a period of racial unrest in the country and in Columbus, the two congregations partnered to provide ministry to the community, reflecting the cultural awareness of Dr. King's philosophy of the beloved community, according to the churches’ nominator.

Under the leadership of Dr. Victor M. Davis, pastor of Trinity Baptist, and Dr. Malcom Davis, pastor of Central College, and with the support of ministry staff, leadership, and volunteers, the churches provided food, household items, and school supplies to those in need for more than a year.

A financial grant from Central College allowed Trinity to deliver enrichment, cultural activities, and educational support for youth in Columbus City Schools. The program was supported with volunteers from students enrolled at The Ohio State University and members of the two congregations. The two churches also held simultaneous Bible studies that addressed racial tension and inclusion and concluded with the two pastors exchanging pulpits and preaching.

Tyric Drane of Cleveland - Youth: Capturing the Vision of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Award
The Youth Award recognizes young Ohioans who exemplify leadership, nonviolence, commitment to excellence, and interracial cooperation. Nominees must have demonstrated an adherence to one or more of Dr. King’s Six Principles of Nonviolence and must have been 20 or younger on Nov. 30.

Tyric Drane is known as a bridge builder and role model to young residents in Cleveland’s Central neighborhood where he was raised. A 2019 graduate of East Tech High School in Cleveland and currently a junior at Bethany College, Drane’s nominator describes him as the epitome of the King principle that the Beloved Community is the framework for the future.

“Since his early days, Tyric Drane has realized the importance of community and nonviolence. Growing up in a neighborhood where nearly 70% of residents live below the poverty line, Tyric has witnessed more than his share of community challenges and violence in his young life.”

These challenges strengthened his resolve to make a difference in his community. Even though he attends college out of state, Drane returns home to give back, working over the summer with the Sisters of Charity Foundation of Cleveland. In this capacity, Drane engages in grassroots advocacy. He worked on the Greater Cleveland COVID-19 Rapid Response Fund’s government affairs task force supporting nonprofit organizations dealing with the ongoing effects of the pandemic. Drane and another intern compiled research, conducted informative interviews, and assisted in communications between organizations and fund members.

Drane volunteers regularly for community service projects and serves the Boys & Girls Clubs of Cleveland by mentoring students in afterschool athletic programs and speaking to high school seniors about the importance of building community relationships. He also helped gather input from often-excluded community members to help inform the design of the new St. Vincent Charity Medical Center Health Campus in his neighborhood.

“He recognizes the need to uplift the fact that Cleveland's Central neighborhood is a community full of resources and that he is an example that you are bigger than your circumstances,” added his nominator.

A high school and college football player, Drane is one of only seven Bethany College football players to make the 2020-21 President’s Athletic Conference Academic Honor Roll. His interest in a career in athletic training stems from his own experiences and he aims to help young athletes reach their highest potential.

Dawn Glasco, Manager of Engagement and Social Innovation for Cleveland Central Promise Neighborhood, lauds Drane for his vision and leadership that sets an example for other young people to follow.

“His discipline as an athlete, student, mentor, and leader serve as a light to all around him. Tyric is destined for a life of greatness and joy because his generosity will continue to reap him many rewards.”

G. Michael Payton of Gahanna - Ohio Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Governor’s Humanitarian Award
The Governor’s Humanitarian Award seeks to honor those quiet soldiers who promote the welfare of humanity and the elimination of pain and suffering through their own selfless service, often without recognition. Nominees possess a personal activism that has inspired unheralded long-term service to the community and stands as a model for others to emulate.

G. Michael Payton spent 35 years in public service, including 18 years as the executive director of the Ohio Civil Rights Commission (OCRC). Before retiring in 2019, Payton led a statewide staff of 80 employees supporting the commission’s mission to promote “positive human relations amongst Ohio’s diverse population through education and enforcement of laws against discrimination.”

His nominator described him as engaging and collaborative, with strong dedication to the OCRC, its staff, and the citizens he served. During his time at OCRC, Payton led unprecedented statewide education and outreach initiatives and oversaw an enhancement of the OCRC’s case investigative process. Payton also was instrumental in the creation of the OCRC’s annual MLK Jr. Art and Multimedia Contest, Ohio Civil Rights Hall of Fame, and the Columbus Bar Association’s Annual MLK Jr. Civil Rights Symposium, among other accomplishments.

Payton began his career with the State of Ohio in 1984 as an assistant attorney general in the Civil Rights section where he prosecuted civil rights cases and served as counsel to the OCRC. He served in the Attorney General's Office for 11 years, including as assistant chief of the Transportation Section, where he provided legal counsel to the Ohio Department of Transportation (ODOT). He also served as ODOT's Real Estate Administrator. Then at OCRC he served in legal and operations capacities before becoming executive director.

Payton earned his bachelor’s degree in political science from The Ohio State University and his Juris Doctorate from Georgetown University Law Center.

“For over 30 years, Mr. Payton has used his positions in public service to champion civil rights, diversity, and inclusion,” said his nominator “Although Director Payton retired in December 2019, his legacy continues to be vibrant within state government.”