Gittens, who heads Boston's appointed school board and was recently named Massachusetts' commissioner of youth services, was hailed for an "extraordinary" record of public service in being presented the Amanda V. Houston Community Service Award, given to a public figure in recognition of exceptional community service that has gone unacknowledged.
"He has done extraordinary work in the community," Community Affairs Director Jean McKeigue said in presenting the Houston Award.
Gittens, a former assistant district attorney in Suffolk County, is a director of the Judge Baker Guidance Center and an active member of the Ruffin Society and the Paul McLaughlin Center of the Daniel Marr Boys and Girls Club in Boston. He also serves as a deacon at St. Hugh's Catholic Church in Roxbury.
The Houston Award commemorates the late Amanda V. Houston, who shaped the Black Studies Program at Boston College as its coordinator from 1981-93.
Grant, a convert to Catholicism who has written frequently on the relationship between African-Americans and the Catholic Church, was given the Martin Luther King Jr. Community Service Award, presented annually to "a quietly heroic person in recognition of service to the general community."
The head of lectors at St. Patrick's Church, Grant is a board member of the Archdiocesan Office for Black Catholics, as well as of the Roxbury Senior Citizens Council and the Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative.
In accepting the award, Grant recalled her upbringing in Tennessee during the days of segregation, crediting the teachers in the blacks-only schools she attended with encouraging her dreams of better things.
"I think of those wonderful Negro teachers who taught me," she said. "They planted the seeds in my mind that it was OK to dream."
The keynote address at the awards ceremony was delivered by William Pepper, JD '75, a former King associate who now represents the man convicted of killing the civil rights leader, James Earl Ray.
Pepper, with the support of the King family, has argued for a new trial for Ray, maintaining he was wrongly convicted of an assassination executed by an underworld and military conspiracy.
Pepper said the United States has yet to realize Martin Luther King's vision, which he said entailed "social justice for all Americans. He dreamed of an end to wars ... [and of] a redeployment of resources to meet the growing social needs of the poor people of America.
"Economic justice was an important component in the America that Martin Luther King envisioned - and that he died for," said Pepper.
Other speakers included Mary Ellen St. Clair, administrative secretary in the Office of Undergraduate Admission and co-chairwoman of the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Committee; Prof. John M. Flackett (Law), a former professor of Pepper's at the Law School; Dan Bunch, director of the Learning to Learn Program, and Vice President for Student Affairs Kevin P. Duffy.
Duffy drew a comparison between the social vision of King and of Boston College's founders in the Society of Jesus.
"The Jesuits seek to find God in his creations - in people of all races and colors," said Duffy. "Martin Luther King and St. Ignatius Loyola, founder of the Jesuit order, would have been great friends if they had been living at the same time."
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