Niles senior named LMC Spirit of MLK Spotlight recipient

Published 2:22 pm Monday, January 15, 2024

BENTON HARBOR — A Niles High School senior was recognized Monday for his commitment to honoring Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s legacy.

Niles High School Senior Class President Ethan Reid Chambliss, along with Berrien County Commissioner Chokwe Pitchford and the Benton Harbor nonprofit Neighbors Organizing Against Racism (NOAR) were recognized Monday morning as the 2024 Spirit of MLK Spotlight recipients during the annual MLK Celebration and Community Breakfast in Grand Upton Hall of Lake Michigan College’s Mendel Center. 

Despite subzero temperatures, more than 170 people attended the event, which opened MLK Celebration Week 2024, a community-wide effort honoring the life and legacy of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. In addition to the Spirit of MLK Spotlight recognition, Monday’s celebration featured a keynote address by Sharon and Emanuel “Mack” Brown, founders of both the African American History & Literature Gallery and the Unified Civic Monument Project, inspirational musical performances, and remarks from community leaders. 

 “We stand on the shoulders of Dr. King,” LMC’s Dean of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, Cam Herth, said. “Your attendance here today, despite these frigid temperatures, is a testament to what we can do when we come together as a community.” 

The Spirit of MLK Spotlight recognition is designed to shine a light on an individual, a student, and an organization that embodies Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s spirit of brotherhood/sisterhood and love through their direct action throughout the community. 

Chambliss is Niles’ 2024 Senior Class President. 

“Listening to the music today, I kept thinking about harmony,” he said. “The thing that is so great about harmony is that it isn’t about one note. The difference in each note coming together is what makes it so impactful.” 

In 2022, Ethan won Corewell Health’s Community Grand Rounds Hidden History Contest for his essay “The Bondage of Slavery in the Heart of Healthcare.” He is a two-time member of Niles High School’s Race and Ethnicity Professional Development Panel and helped create and implement two board-approved classes – Leadership and Cultural Studies – at the school. 

Carrying a 4.143 GPA, Ethan is a National Honor Society member and a College Prep Scholar. He is the 2024 Culture Club President, serves on the Student Council, and is a five-time recipient of the NHS Respect, Responsibility, and Resilience honors. 

He is a three-sport athlete on Niles High School’s boys tennis, basketball, and track teams. He was a state finalist in the high jump in 2023 and is currently captain of the Niles boys basketball team. 

Ethan is a Niles New Tech Ambassador, serves on the YMCA Teen Advisory Council, and volunteers with YMCA youth basketball programs and Thanksgiving Day Feed for families in need. 

Pitchford, a 2021 Lake Michigan College graduate, serves as the Berrien County Commissioner for District 3. He is also the Executive Director for the nonprofits Berrien Connection and Berrien Forward.  

“I am so grateful to be back here at LMC because this is the place where I tried to figure out my pathway in life,” Pitchford said. “Here I was told I was capable; I was enough. There are a lot of divisions in our community, but I believe those differences are an illusion. I believe debate, discord, and dialogue are the lifeblood of our community, not just our demographics. It isn’t our differences that matter. It is the content of our character.” 

The 2017 Countryside Academy graduate was among 300 students chosen for Organizing Corps 2020, which trains students to work on political campaigns. He was still an LMC student when he launched his first campaign, an unsuccessful run for the 79th District seat in Michigan’s House of Representatives. His campaign raised nearly $250,000 and received several endorsements.  

After earning his associate degree in political science in 2021, he started two nonprofits, Berrien Forward and Berrien Connection. In November 2022, he was elected to the Berrien County Board of Commissioners, representing District 3, where he serves on the Personnel and Human Services Committee. He sits on the Workforce Development and Economics Committee, the Artificial Intelligence Exploratory Committee, and the Economic Mobility Leadership Network for the National Association of Counties.   

Pitchford has received the AFL-CIO’s Transcending Leader Award and Detroit City Council’s Spirit of Detroit Award. He’s been named to Moody on the Market’s “40 under 40” and, most recently, LMC’s Alumni Achievement Award. He serves on the boards of The Ghostlight Theater, Southwest Michigan Community Action Agency, and Michigan Community Corrections. He’s co-chair of Berrien County’s Allies and Leaders for Community and Police Trust.  

NOAR is a Benton Harbor-based nonprofit founded by Trenton Bowens, Vice President and Board of Education Trustee of Benton Harbor Area Schools.

Its mission is to heal the divide between communities through education and create opportunities for people from various ethnic backgrounds to share and learn from each other through everyday interactions. 

“I want to thank my board members for having faith and believing in this organization,” Bowens said. “Since we started Neighbors Organizing Against Racism, we knew we couldn’t just talk the talk, we must do the work. I am often reminded of Harriet Tubman, who said, ‘When you hear the dogs, keep going, and never stop.’ Despite the naysayers and the obstacles you face, keep going, and never stop.” 

NOAR collaborated with Whirlpool Corp. and the City of Benton Harbor to revitalize and rededicate Broadway Park, now known as June Woods Memorial Park, in honor of a formerly enslaved person turned entrepreneur and community leader. The park improvements included replacing basketball hoops, installing a turf field, upgrading play areas, widening sidewalks, and repainting surfaces. 

NOAR organizes and hosts the Black Leadership Forum and Good Trouble Awards. They spearheaded the effort to paint Black Lives Matter outside Benton Harbor High School to remind students and community members of their value. They have organized online book club readings provoking conversations about race and racism and host the City of Benton Harbor Easter Egg Hunt. 

During Monday’s keynote address, Mack Brown referenced Dr. King’s speech, “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop,” made in support of the striking sanitation workers at Mason Temple in Memphis, Tennessee, on April 3, 1968 — the day before he was assassinated. He also referenced the Unified Civic Monuments Project, the public art project to erect monuments in both St. Joseph and Benton Harbor to honor the influence and strength of Dr. King Jr. 

“Dr. King knew that our greatest barrier was making America a brotherhood,” Brown said. “Following the death of George Floyd, there was a cry for justice, and communities started to have some difficult conversations. Those conversations led to the Unified Civic Monuments Project. Through those conversations, it was decided that two monuments would come, and two monuments are on their way. This project is about two communities coming together with the power of one voice.” 

Monday’s celebration also featured an invocation by Rev. Dr. Kenneth E. Robinson, Benton Harbor Second Baptist Church, welcome messages from Herth and LMC President Dr. Trevor A. Kubatzke, remarks from Benton Harbor Mayor Marcus Muhammad, a charge by Pastor Immanuel Williams, New Birth Apostolic Church, and musical performances by Dr. Nadine Isaac-Dennis, the LMC Concert Choir, and All God’s Children Choir. Herth and Charmae Sanders, LMC’s Executive Director of the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Programs, served as emcees during the event. 

The MLK Celebration Week 2024, which continues through Saturday, Jan. 20, is presented by Lake Michigan College and sponsors Whirlpool Corp., Corewell Health South, Kinexus Group, United Way of Southwest Michigan, Andrews University, and Pizza Hut.