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MLK Picture Awards honor 'people who work in the background'

In Charleston, Martin Luther King Jr. Day triggers a host of events: a parade, ecumenical service, church celebrations, a business breakfast, a poetry slam and more.

Among the annual commemorations of the civil rights icon is Rep. Wendell Gilliard’s Portrait Awards where he honors local leaders — those who don’t typically garner lots of public attention — by presenting them with a framed portrait of King and singing their praises.

This year’s event, held Sunday at the Charleston Music Hall, featured keynote speaker Mary Thornley, president of Trident Technical College, as well as authors Karen Wright Chisolm and Margie Pizarro, Rep. James Smith and several others.

Music and movement was provided by the Charleston Development Academy Choir, The Citadel Choir, Mt. Moriah Missionary Baptist Church Choir and the Karen Mims Praise Dancers.

The 2018 honorees were:

  • Joan Robinson-Berry, vice president and general manager of Boeing South Carolina
  • Lamar Bonaparte Jr., a young entrepreneur and community activist who works with the homeless and senior citizens
  • LaVanda Brown, director of the YWCA
  • Joy Campbell, founder of the nonprofit #iServeWithJoy, which operates a winter coat drive
  • Yvette Teresa Flowers, executive secretary of the International Longshoremen’s Union
  • Delores Dawson, caregiver and matriarch
  • Jill Swing, a medical marijuana advocate
  • Brittany Mack, founder of the nonprofit Purpose 4 Life
  • Rashad and Gloria Muhammad, owners of Grill and Chill restaurant in North Charleston
  • Richard and Tonya Perrine, owners of Roadside Seafood Restaurant on James Island
  • Mary Ellen Smith, young community activist who works with the homeless
  • Garcia Williams, executive director of The Medi Community Resource Center, a youth mentorship organization
  • Robert Ketchum, owner of Vittles Barbeque, and community activist who assists the homeless
  • Rev. Ronald Williams and the R&R Youth and Community Empowerment Organization
  • Trident Technical College
  • Wesley United Methodist Church

Gilliard said the 20th Picture Awards coincided with the 50th anniversary of King’s death, making it particularly meaningful.

“We always look out for the people who really make the difference in our community, the people who don’t like to be in the forefront, the people who work in the background,” he said. “These are the types of people that (King) would recognize, and used to recognize when he was living.”

Contact Adam Parker at or 843-937-5902.

Adam Parker has covered many beats and topics for The Post and Courier, including race and history, religion, and the arts. He is the author of "Outside Agitator: The Civil Rights Struggle of Cleveland Sellers Jr.," published by Hub City Press.