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Civil Rights Reporter
In 2018, the Commissioners of the Ohio Civil Rights Commission created a new honor for Ohioans who embody leadership, achievement, and citizenship, demonstrating these characteristics through work to advance civil rights, equality, and diversity in Ohio. Award recipients must demonstrate efforts that are above and beyond the routine efforts to advance civil rights through contributions that benefit the community and include more than one organization or community group, fostering cooperation and collaboration between different entities to reach a single goal.
Lydia Morgan was born and raised in North Carolina in 1948 but moved to Cincinnati in 1975. She earned a Bachelor of Science from Bennett College, a Bachelor of Art from Central State University, and a Master’s degree from Montclair State College. Lydia Morgan went on to become an educator in a predominantly White school district in which she faced discrimination and racism as one of the district’s few Black educators. Despite the challenges she was facing personally, Morgan made sure her classroom remained a safe and educational space for all her students and those in the district.
Morgan created and implemented the Juneteenth Festival in Cincinnati, Ohio. She came back with the idea in 1998 after she traveled to another city with a Juneteenth event. While the event started as a small gathering, it is now a large community celebration. Supporters of her nomination believe her work of shedding light on Juneteenth helped lead Congress and President Biden to make it a federal holiday in 2021. Morgan has served on many boards and committees within her community such as the Housing Opportunities Made Equal, Kennedy Heights Community Council, and the Faith and Community Alliance. She also has received many awards from other community leaders such as The Urban League Lion Award in 2016, The Cincinnati Enquirer’s Woman of the Year Award in 2011 and the Community Action Commission Theodore M. Berry Award in 2020.
Lydia J. Morgan created Cincinnati’s first Juneteenth celebration in 1988, 33 years before the date was recognized as a national holiday. Juneteenth recognized the date the last enslaved Black Americans were freed on June 19, 1865 — two years after the Emancipation Proclamation was issued. Morgan’s first Cincinnati Juneteenth celebration had almost no budget and was held in a small park, with mostly family and friends. Today’s Cincinnati Juneteenth celebrations are held in Eden Park, one of the city’s largest and most central public spaces. The event engages and coordinates many different city organizations to build and inform the community. Participating organizations include health resources, historical storytellers and actors, social justice educators and activists, and public entities. Through its history, the event has remained free and family-friendly for all.
Larry James has been at the heart of the Columbus business, legal, civic, and political scene for the last thirty years. He is a respected litigator, as well as an advisor to local and national leaders. Mr. James is a life member of the Sixth Circuit Judicial Conference, and he has served as General Counsel of the National Fraternal Order of Police since 2001. He is also co-founder of the African American Leadership Academy, a member of the Board of Trustees of Kenyon College, the founding and current president of the Lincoln Theatre, and has served sixteen years as the president of the King Arts Complex.
As the managing director of Lardon & Associates and member of many boards of directors, Donna James is a trusted resource and advisor to leaders in the public and private sector. She has founded and lead several nonprofit and community organizations, including the Center for Healthy Families and the African American Leadership Academy. Among many other awards and leadership positions, she was appointed by President Obama as chair of the National Women’s Business Council and named by Black Enterprise Magazine as one of the top 75 in Corporate America.
Together, Mr. and Mrs. James have helped create, shape, and grow the I, Too, Sing America: The Harlem Renaissance at 100 project to unify the greater Columbus community through the history, heritage and global influence of the Harlem Renaissance.
With a mission to create a catalyst to unite, collaborate, and celebrate the Columbus black arts community through education, exposure, and expression, the I, Too, Sing America project is a year-long, citywide initiative to spread the riches of the Harlem Renaissance of 1918 New York City to modern day Columbus. Through this project, Columbus hosts a thrilling and accessible opportunity to appreciate the past and understand what the Harlem Renaissance can teach us about our nation today. Columbus arts organizations in cooperation with author and scholar Wil Haygood and with the support of Larry and Donna James and more than a dozen other local businesses and organizations, have committed to this opportunity to unite, collaborate and make a statement that will be heard far and wide. “Just as the Harlem Renaissance was ignited in a crucible stirred by outsiders, cabaret performers, self-taught students of jazz, as well as academics, scholars and classically trained artists, I, Too, Sing America will draw from and resurrect our city’s diverse community of creators, makers, artists, educators and organizations.”
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