West Virginia University honored a student and a local minister for their service in the spirit of Martin Luther King Jr. at the annual Unity Breakfast Jan. 20.
The Rev. Kevin Cain of Kingdom Evangelical Methodist Church in Westover was this year's recipient of the Martin Luther King Jr. Achievement Award. The WVU Center for Black Culture and Research recognized his dedication to service, youth outreach and advocacy for area residents living in poverty.
Sophomore philosophy student Anthony Braxton, a Charleston resident, also was awarded the Martin Luther King Jr. Scholarship. Braxton is a resident assistant at Brooke Tower, overseeing 48 students. The first to attend college in his family, Braxton was inspired by his mother to overcome struggles and strife to live a positive, encouraging life, he said in his application. In addition to his work as an RA, he also is involved with the Student Government Association.
Before the awards were presented, Fred Hord, the first permanent director of the Center for Black Culture and Research, discussed the Center's 25th anniversary in light of the last few years of King's life with a theme of "after dreams."
Hord pointed to King's speech, saying that while it was a great speech, it was not his whole story and not indicative of his thoughts toward the end of his life where he decried war and capitalistic forces that reinforced poverty.
Hord challenged those in attendance, especially students, to look beyond themselves and work to improve the lives of others.
He cautioned students not to be like those who thought the fight was over because of certain historic changes, such as having a black family in the White House.
"Students at other places haven't listened to Dr. King about what's really important in life," he said. "Students at other places believe we have achieved a post-racial society, and we don't need to work on it any more."
Both award winners exemplify the morals and goals of King: equality, advocacy, civil rights, social justice, progress and peace, according to the awards committee that selected them.
Cain is an active member of the community, both inside his church and out. One of his most notable activities is his work with the Fellowship of Christian Athletes. Every week, Cain invites high school student-athletes into his home for an evening of physical and spiritual nourishment. He hosts around 70 students for a plentiful dinner – often a nationally or ethnically themed meal to introduce the students to various cultures – followed by time spent spreading positive, loving and unifying messages.
Dubbed "Rev Kev" by the students he works with, Cain has had an overwhelmingly positive influence in their lives and has a genuine concern for the youth in his community, according to his nomination form. As a result, the students feel they have personal relationships with him, calling him a "uniter," an "influential individual," and someone who has "changed the lives of hundreds of kids."
"He has encouraged me to engage life under a lens of beauty and a humble heart," one student said.
Award presenter associate dean in the School of Dentistry Shelia Price said that Cain shared many qualities with King, including his call to ministry as a young man and his spreading of brotherly love.
In addition to the time he spends with high school athletes, Cain has reached out to a local elementary school. About three years ago, he started the SOURCE, a program that provides food for the children at Skyview Elementary to take home on weekends.
Skyview has the highest rate of poverty among Monongalia County Schools, and as such many of the children aren't able to receive the meals they need when they aren't at school. Cain's program offers a lunchbox to every Skyview student to take home each weekend, filled with two breakfasts, two lunches, two dinners and two snacks – totaling about 3,000 calories – for the children to sustain themselves until they are able to take advantage of the free and reduced breakfast and lunch programs at school again on Monday.
The SOURCE operates 41 weeks each year, spending about $350 per child in that year. In addition to the much needed food, the kids sometimes get extra goodies in their lunch boxes like books, pencils, crayons and rulers to encourage their education both inside and outside of the classroom.