Two Honored With MLK Service Award

Two Honored With MLK Service Award

Two of Boston's most influential neighborhood citizens, Boston School Committee Vice-chairwoman Alfreda J. Harris and artist and educator James Marcus Mitchell, received community service awards from the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Committee at an Oct. 21 ceremony in Gasson 100. The King committee, formed by members of the Boston College community to promote the slain civil rights leader's dream of social justice and equality, has presented the awards annually for the past 10 years in recognition of outstanding community service.

Harris, who has been active in athletic and educational endeavors in Boston for more than three decades, received the Amanda V. Houston Award in recognition of "exceptional community service that has gone unacknowledged."

Widely known as the "Godmother of Hoop," Harris has helped countless young people earn athletic scholarships to colleges and universities across the nation. In 1980, she founded the Shelburne Recreation AAU basketball program, which has enabled many of the city's top female basketball players to play in national amateur tournaments.

Award winners James Marcus Mitchell and Alfreda J. Harris are flanked by Community Affairs Director Jean McKeigue (left) and Black Studies Program Assistant Sandra Sandiford at the presentation. (Photo by Justin Knight)

In 1993, Harris was Mayor Thomas M. Menino's first appointment to the Boston School Committee. She has since become vice-chairwoman of that board on the basis of her work on behalf of educational reform, parental and community involvement in the city's schools, increased academic standards and comprehensive support services for all students.

"I'm honored to be mentioned in the same breath as Martin Luther King...and very happy for the recognition," Harris said in accepting her award.

Mitchell, an artist, community historian and advocate of the METCO program that places inner-city students of color in suburban schools, was presented with the committee's Martin Luther King Jr. Award for "quiet heroism" in service to the community.

He was a founder in 1965 of the Boston Negro Artist Association, now the Boston African American Artists Association, that presents annual exhibitions in Copley Square and in Munroe Park in Roxbury.

Mitchell has previously been honored by Boston College with the Griot Award as an oral historian in the West African tradition.

Recalling his years of involvement in civil rights and the arts in Boston, Mitchell said, "We didn't wait for people to tell us, 'You should do this or that'...We brought whites, blacks and Hispanics together.

"I hope to be able to do a little bit more before I pass on," Mitchell said.

Following the ceremony, Harvard University Professor Orlando Patterson delivered a lecture on "Continuity and Change in African American Families and Gender Relationships" as part of the Lowell Lecture Humanities Series.

-Reid Oslin and Mark Sullivan

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