UWL alum being honored

Tracy Littlejohn, a 2007 UWL graduate and current co-adviser of the university’s Native American Student Association will receive the community’s 2020 Martin Luther King Jr. Leadership Award.

Tracy Littlejohn to receive 2020 Martin Luther King Jr. Leadership Award

A 2007 UWL graduate and current co-adviser of the university’s Native American Student Association will receive the community’s 2020 Martin Luther King Jr. Leadership Award.

Tracy Littlejohn, Home-School Coordinator for the Ho-Chunk Nation La Crosse Youth and Learning Center, will receive the award at the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Community Holiday Celebration at 7 p.m. Monday, Jan. 20, at Viterbo University Fine Arts Theatre, 929 Jackson St. Admission is free.

Littlejohn is known for bringing passion and conviction in educating others about the hurtful impact of mascots, the trauma of racism and oppression of indigenous people. At the Youth and Learning Center she works to ensure that Native American children have support and the best opportunities to be successful. Littlejohn also co-advises the UWL Native American Student Association.

For more than two decades, Littlejohn’s steadfast activism and strong advocacy has assisted the community to grapple with issues around social justice. She is a trained mediator, Native Healing Circle Facilitator, and one of the co-founders and coordinators for Widening the Circle Indigenous Education Conference. She has conducted many workshops related to hate/bias, privilege, domestic violence, and the history of racism and its impact on marginalized people.

Littlejohn’s community service includes the Kickapoo Valley Reserve Management Board, Artspire Planning Committee, Disparities in Juvenile Justice-Best Practices Committee, City of La Crosse Mayor’s Taskforce on Racism, Wisconsin Indian Education Association Alternate Board Member, Wisconsin Network for Peace and Justice Facilitator. She has assisted in planning four White Privilege Conferences.

The Martin Luther King Jr. Leadership Award honors those who have worked to create positive change in the Greater La Crosse area with efforts focused on social justice, equality and diversity/inclusion. Their efforts must include anti-racism work and devoting personal energies beyond their “paid position.”

Two other honors to be awarded

A second award that night will be given to Irv Balto, who will receive the first Drum Major Award.

King delivered a speech at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta on Feb. 4, 1968, known as “The Drum Major Instinct” speech. The speech was brought to the attention of the MLK Jr. Community Celebration Organizing Committee in reference to Irving Balto. As a result, the committee created the MLK Jr. Drum Major Legacy Award of the Coulee Region to recognize Irving.

King talked about cultivating the right relationship to the “drum major instinct” we possess, leading and serving, not to be first in praise, but rather to be, “first in love.” In this, Balto has excelled.

Like Irving, King’s drum majors are planners — contributing a lifetime of study, reading and creative, critical thinking so an event or organization can be most effective. They are cheerleaders, beating the organizing, motivating drum. They are participants, encouraging others to listen to their own hearts and act from love.

The award is not merely about an individual’s countable accomplishments, although Irving has achieved many. Rather, it is about acknowledging the essential drum majors leading efforts to do the right thing even if it’s uncomfortable, unreasonable or impossible.

Balto has altered the community in both subtle and perceptible ways, including issues of worker’s rights, anti-violence actions, environmental justice and protecting vulnerable communities. His decades-long work for social justice, equality, compassion, cooperation, protection of natural resources, economic fairness, and equal justice, epitomizes King’s call to be “drum majors for justice.”

The third award presented during the MLK celebration will be the Lynda Blackmon Lowery High School Leadership Award. Lowery is one of the youngest children to have marched with King from Selma to Montgomery in 1965. Established in 2018, the award recognizes a 9th or 10th grade student who has shown commitment in building community, enhancing diversity and working for justice.

A committee of community members and educators will make the selection of the Lynda Lowery Award winner and is expected to be announced after Jan. 6.

The celebration’s keynote speaker

The featured speaker for this year’s MLK Celebration features Lowery who began her civil rights activism in the early ’60s. The Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) activists organized Lowery and other area children and teenagers to participate in the civil rights movement. In the front lines of the struggle, the young Lowery marched on “Bloody Sunday” and “Turn Around Tuesday.”

Lowery was beaten on the Edmund Pettus Bridge on March 7, 1965, known by a more descriptive name, Bloody Sunday. Her early involvement in the struggle against Jim Crow and American apartheid has been the foundation for her life’s work of civil and human rights.

For Lowery’s biography visit http://www.viterbo.edu/db-reinhart-institute-ethics-leadership/lecture-series.