Civil rights legend speaks at Spirit of MLK awards


By Catherine Hunter –

In 1944 she was 16 years old, pregnant and African American. Today she is an internationally renowned author, speaker, performer, recipient of more than 30 honorary degrees and a civil rights trail blazer.

Dr. Maya Angelou, PhD was the keynote speaker for the 2013 Spirit of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. award ceremony presented by Mission Hospital and Mountain Area Health Education Center (MAHEC) on Thursday, January 24. Though she worked for civil rights alongside Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jr., Angelou’s message was for people of all backgrounds.

She opened by saying that all people in this country paid to be here. Whether it was the Irish escaping from the potato famines, the Asians coming here to work in the 1800’s or the African Americans who came here, most against their will, Angelou said all our ancestors paid the price for us to be here.

Angelou’s message of respecting all people regardless of their cultural background was the theme for the award ceremony. Senior Vice President and Chief Quality Officer for Mission Health Dr. Williams Maples, MD said Mission’s employees are instrumental in helping the hospital achieve its goals of diversity and respect for people of all backgrounds.

“Our overarching goal is to eliminate racial and ethnic disparities across the organization, the communities we serve throughout Western North Carolina and beyond,” Maples said. “The Spirit of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Award recognizes individuals who demonstrate their commitment to diversity in the work they do every day.”

Mission Hospital RN and nurse educator Brandy Mills won the award from Mission Hospital. Maples said Mills was raised by a single mother who was unable to complete high school, yet Mills became the first in her family to earn a college degree.

“I’m so humble to be even classified in the same ideal as Martin Luther King,” Mills said. “I’m just me and I’m proud to work in a system [Mission Health] that allows me to be who I am.”

Maples said because of her background, Mills was one of the young people, “…the world had given up on,” and today helps mentor young people who have been branded the same.

“She embodies Martin Luther King’s dream,” he said.

Dr. Dan Frayne received the MAHEC Spirit of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Award for 2013. Frayne is the Assistant Chief Clinical Director for the MAHEC Family Health Center. MAHEC Division Director of General Dentistry William T. Ryals, Jr., DMD said Frayne not only helped to obtain a grant that provides indigent Hispanics with much needed health care, but created a sustainable system to continue offering health care for the uninsured.

Frayne said he was blessed to work with leadership willing to hear ideas and allow change to happen. “It’s about the people we work with,” he said.

The Mission Hospital Spirit of MLK Choir opened the event singing And We are Glad and I need you to Survive. The choir was followed by Inspire the Fire, a Charlotte group recently appearing on America’s Got Talent. The group sang God Bless America and Lean on Me and received a standing ovation.

Following the music, Mission Health President and CEO Ronald A. Paulus, MD expressed appreciation to Angelou and all those attending the event on a rescheduled day. The event, originally scheduled for January 17 was postponed because of inclement weather.

Paulus repeated King’s famous quote, “Of all the forms of inequality, injustice in health care is the most shocking and inhumane.” Paulus said he sees efforts to eliminate inequality in health care reflected in our colleges today, many of which are trying to continue King’s and Angelou’s visions.

As he introduced Angelou, Paulus mentioned she was a recent recipient of the Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor, and is the only African-American woman to recite a poem for a presidential inauguration.

“Her theatrical reading likened the speeches of King and Malcolm X,” said Paulus. “It’s a rare opportunity to be in the presence of a living legend.”

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