Washington, D.C. Public Allies Executive Director Nakeisha Neal Jones (GRD ’02) received the annual 2016 John Thompson Jr. Legacy of a Dream Award at the 14th annual Let Freedom Ring Celebration on Monday evening at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.
The event, part of Georgetown University’s 2016 Martin Luther King Jr. Week of Events, also featured performances by Grammy-nominated gospel singer Yolanda Adams, the Let Freedom Ring Celebration Choir and the Georgetown Black Theatre Ensemble.
The John Thompson Jr. Legacy of a Dream Award, named for the groundbreaking former Georgetown basketball coach who led the team from 1972 to 1999 — and was the first black coach to win a National Championship — seeks to highlight the city’s most inspirational leaders working to solve some of the community’s most pressing challenges.
, a Georgetown alumna and native Washingtonian, serves as the executive director at Public Allies D.C., an organization that prepares young adults from diverse and underrepresented backgrounds for careers in community service and social change via 10-month apprenticeships.
In his introduction of Neal Jones, Georgetown University President John J. DeGioia praised Neal Jones for upholding Martin Luther King Jr.’s message of equality, justice and love in her work.
“With this award, we recognize a woman who loves, a woman who is living Dr. King’s faith,” DeGioia said. “Public Allies D.C., under the leadership of Ms. Neal Jones is a source of hope for all of us, for our city and for our future.”
Following DeGioia, a video highlighting Neal Jones’ service was screened, during which she referenced the Jesuit commitment to service.
“I really do come back to the servant mission because that really means that I have a purpose,” Neal Jones said. “It’s not about me. It’s something that’s greater than me.”
The ceremony opened with the Let Freedom Ring Celebration Choir performing “Mind Stayed on Freedom,” followed by a version of the song “Woke up this Morning With My Mind”, and featured spoken word poetry by community soloist Yonas Araya under the direction of Rev. Nolan Williams Jr.
The Let Freedom Ring Celebration Choir also performed an original composition titled “Say Something, Do Something.” Williams, who has conducted the choir for 13 years, is commissioned each year by the university to arrange a composition reflective of the meaningful occasion.
Williams said that it was important to recognize the heightened racial tensions in the United States in recent months.
“I couldn’t help but to focus on the series of unfortunate events that have taken place in our nation over the last several months and the social regress that we have seen in cities from Charleston to Ferguson and Baltimore to Cleveland and beyond,” Williams said. “I was deeply moved, and recognized that part of the reason why we have these kinds of occasions is because we need to be reminded that the work of social justice, the work that King lived and died and fought for, it continues.”
Williams said that he hopes the lyrics of his song also show the importance of bystander intervention.
“When all is said and done, the silence of our friends gets far more deadly to the cause of social justice than any rhetoric that could ever come from enemy attacks,” Williams said. “These song lyrics, they’re the words I was inspired to write: ‘Evil triumphs when good folk say nothing, do nothing. Evil triumphs when good folk just turn and walk away. It’s time for good folk to stand up and be counted, be heard. Say something! Do something! Good folk, I say today! Hey!’”
The lyrics about bystander intervention were sung while the Black Theatre Ensemble performed examples of bystander nonintervention.
Joy Robertson (SFS ’16), who was selected to deliver the invocation at the beginning of the event, said that it’s important to recognize the lessons of past and present leaders.
“It was Dr. King who reminded us that the time is always right to do what is right and we are grateful to have passionate leaders like him who inspire us to live out this mission every day,” Robertson said. “We are also thankful to be assembled here, to recognize an outstanding public servant and community builder in that spirit, Nakeisha Neal Jones, who is developing and empowering our communities of tomorrow.”