Martin Luther King Jr. Advisory Council Honors

2017 Award Recipients


January 13, 2017 (Atlanta, GA) – During a ceremony at the State Capitol, the Martin Luther King Jr. Advisory Council today presented three awards recognizing individuals and groups whose actions honor the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  In addition, the Martin Luther King, Jr. Advisory Council is pleased to announce the creation of two new awards that will be given annually in the name of two Civil Rights Legends: Dr. Joseph E. Lowery and Ambassador Andrew Young.  These awards will honor individuals. 


“Dr. King believed that individuals have not just the ability, but a duty, to serve others and impact their community in a positive way,” said DCA Commissioner Camila Knowles.  “It is groups and communities like those we honor today that ensure his legacy lives on.”


The winners of this year’s Martin Luther King Jr. Advisory Council awards are:


The City of Savannah’s Martin Luther King, Jr. Observance Day Association, Inc.

While its name says “Observance Day,” the Association is by no means restricted to one day each year.  In an ongoing effort to promote the legacy and teachings of Dr. King, the Association hosts events throughout the year and promotes youth scholarship and achievement through community engagement opportunities such as an Interfaith Worship Service, a Citywide Worship Service, a parade with over 300 entries, a Business & Community Unity Brunch, the Annual Rosa Parks Freedom Breakfast, a dinner and dance gala, a youth talent program and an annual Gospel Fest.


Mrs. Rita Jackson Samuels

Mrs. Samuels has advocated for civil and women’s rights since her youth, when she served as a secretary for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference Operation Breadbasket under the administration of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and five subsequent SCLC Presidents.  She established Women Flying High, LLC, a successful small business whose strategic alliances and joint ventures increased the share of government contracts for women-owned businesses.  Mrs. Samuels was the first African-American female in Georgia’s history to serve on the personal staff of a Governor (Jimmy Carter).  She coordinated the display of the Martin Luther King, Jr., Bishop Henry McNeal Turner and Mrs. Lucy Craft Laney portraits in the Capitol; served as a consultant in the Carter White House; served as Director of Mayor Andrew Young’s Office of Citizens & Community Affairs; and was appointed as the first African-American to serve on the Georgia State Election Board.  Mrs. Samuels has been a member of Georgia’s Martin Luther King, Jr. Advisory Council since its inception.



New Life Baptist Church and Rev. Marlin Harris

Rev. Harris and his New Life Baptist Church in Decatur provide hands and feet to the Gospel.  The church’s Community Services Ministries are far-reaching and include “His Love Extended”, a homeless and drug rehab outreach service; Project S.O.A.R., a ministry to first-time juvenile offenders and their families; Garments of Grace clothes closet; a prison ministry; an entrepreneurial ministry; a GED ministry; a Job Readiness – Employment Skills Training ministry; a Student Education Support ministry to assist students continue their education beyond high school; and a Total Praise Barbershop and Hair Salon Ministry. 


The inaugural Andrew J. Young and Joseph E. Lowery awards were presented to their namesakes. 


Dr. Joseph E. Lowery

The “Dean of the Civil Rights Movement,” Dr. Lowery actively began pursuing civil rights early in his life.  Lowery, an ordained Methodist minister who pastored for more than 45 years, also served as head of the Alabama Civic Affairs Association, an organization devoted to the desegregation of buses and public places, and formed the Southern Christian Leadership Conference with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in 1957, initially serving as Vice President and subsequently serving as President.  He led the “Bloody Sunday” march from Selma to Montgomery in 1965 and was inducted into the International Civil Rights Walk of Fame in the 2004 inaugural class, receiving the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2009.  Lowery was instrumental in removing the Confederate battle flag from the Georgia state flag, and helped the city of Atlanta prepare for the 1996 Olympics.  He gave the benediction at President Obama’s 2009 inauguration. 


Ambassador Andrew Young

Also a minister, Ambassador Young became active in the Civil Rights movement as a pastor in South Georgia.  Playing an integral role in the movement, Young served as a strategist and negotiator in cities such as Birmingham, Selma, and Atlanta.  He was director of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, which allowed him to be one of Dr. King’s closest colleagues, led the SCLC’s “Citizenship Schools,” and was a key strategist during campaigns that led to the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.  Young was with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. when he was assassinated in Memphis in 1968.  Elected to Congress in 1972, 1974 and 1976, Young did not complete his final term as he was appointed by President Carter as the first African-American Ambassador to the United Nations.  Young also served two terms as Atlanta’s Mayor, during which time Hartsfield International Airport experienced significant growth, and he later played a significant role in the city earning the 1996 Olympic Games.  Young is also the recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom and the French Legion d’Honneur.



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About the Martin Luther King Jr. Advisory Council

On May 9th, 2011, Georgia Governor Nathan Deal signed the bill to create the Martin Luther King, Jr. Advisory Council, which consists of nine Georgians serving four-year terms. At the signing, Gov. Deal noted, “When Americans observe Martin Luther King Jr. Day each January, the nation’s eyes turn toward Georgia. This gives us an opportunity to showcase our state’s critical role in the civil rights movement, but it also obligates us to do everything we can to preserve the memory and continue the work of our native son, Dr. King. The Martin Luther King Jr. Advisory Council plays a leading role in the effort to celebrate one of the greatest Georgians of all time for generations to come.”  Supported by the Georgia Commission for Service and Volunteerism at the Georgia Department of Community Affairs, it is the duty of this council to promote the principles of nonviolence, peace, social justice and awareness of the civil rights movement espoused by the life and work of Martin Luther King, Jr.



About the Georgia Department of Community Affairs

The Georgia Department of Community Affairs (DCA) partners with communities to create a climate of success for Georgia’s families and businesses through community and economic development, local government assistance, and safe and affordable housing. Using state and federal resources, DCA helps communities spur private job creation, implement planning, develop downtowns, generate affordable housing solutions, and promote volunteerism. DCA also helps qualified low- and moderate-income Georgians buy homes, rent housing, and prevent foreclosure and homelessness. For more information, visit