Georgetown University partnered with the Kennedy Center for the 17th annual “Let Freedom Ring!” ceremony on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, celebrating King’s life and legacy by acknowledging those who continue to embody his life’s work.

Every year since 2003, Georgetown has presented the John Thompson Jr. Legacy of a Dream Award, named for the former Georgetown basketball coach and first award recipient, to an individual who has upheld the Jesuit values of people for others through community service.

@MADINAMANIA/TWITTER | Georgetown presented this year’s John Thompson Jr. Legacy of a Dream Award to community activist Hawah Kasat at the 17th annual “Let Freedom Ring!” celebration on Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

The university presented this year’s award to Hawah Kasat at Monday’s event. Kasat is the co-founder and executive director of One Common Unity, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit organization founded in 2000 that seeks to break the cycle of community violence by promoting music, art and nonviolent practices. Kasat was announced as the recipient of the award in November.

OCU’s principles of social justice are inspired by Kasat’s personal values and reflect King’s messages of nonviolence and advocacy, Kasat said in an interview with The Hoya.

“The organization is shaped by my individual values, of course, and I think as an individual, nonviolence and social justice are absolutely essential pillars and foundational cores to the work we do here at One Common Unity,” Kasat said. “In the spirit of Dr. King and in the spirit of advocating to create a beloved community, we are providing all of our participants, whether they’re youth, teachers or parents, with unconditional love and support.”

As part of the award, Kasat will join a yearlong sustained partnership with the university, seeking to increase visibility for OCU and its mission.

Before introducing a video tribute explaining OCU’s purpose and Kasat’s role in managing the organization, University President John J. DeGioia gave a brief speech about how Kasat’s work reflects King’s ideals of love and community building.

“When we reflect on the contributions of One Common Unity and the leadership of Hawah Kasat, we see love in action,” DeGioia said. “We see a spontaneous, unmotivated, groundless and creative love. We see an expression of mutuality, of interconnectedness, of community.”

In the video tribute, several of Kasat’s colleagues spoke about the positive effects OCU has had in the community, as well as the role Kasat has played in ensuring the growth and continuation of the organization.

Andy Shallal, CEO and founder of Busboys and Poets, D.C.-based restaurants founded with the mission of inspiring social change, praised the constructive work OCU has accomplished for the District.

“One Common Unity is what’s been needed, really, in this city for so long,” Shallal said in the video. “It’s a community of people that really takes folks that have been exposed to violence and other terrible things that happen sometimes in people’s lives and brings them outside the city,”

Kasat founded OCU to teach and empower youth from under-resourced neighborhoods in D.C. In the 18 years since its founding, OCU, along with its flagship program, Fly By Light, has helped more than 25,000 youth and families through music, art, emotional wellness and peace education.

The award gives OCU the opportunity to partner with Georgetown students to broaden the organization’s reach in D.C., according to Kasat.

“This award allows us to continue expanding to more schools and creating, potentially, an undergraduate cohort of Georgetown students that we can train in our model,” Kasat said. “We could then have those undergraduates be in schools with our facilitators and help implement our curriculum to impact more kids.”

The event also included several musical performances by Tony, Emmy and Grammy-winning artist Audra McDonald, Tony-winning artist Brian Stokes Mitchell, the Let Freedom Ring Choir led by music director Rev. Nolan Williams Jr., and the Georgetown jazz ensemble.

Following their final performance, McDonald and Mitchell closed the show with a reflection of the legacy that King has left behind and the importance of ensuring that it lives on in the future.

“If there’s anything that Dr. King left us, it’s that we are a part of a continuum,” Mitchell said. “We are all in this world together and we are all working together to try to make it better for each other and especially for our children, for the generation that comes after us.”

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