MORGANTOWN — WVU’s Center for Black Culture and Research and WVU’s Division of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion marked MLK Day 2022 with a special Zoom program on Friday.
Delegate Danielle Walker, D-Monongalia, received the 2022 MLK Achievement Award. And Debbie Robinson, former president of the Morgantown/Kingwood NAACP chapter and owner of Wanderlust Travels, shared some thoughts as the keynote speaker.
Center Director Marjorie Fuller said of Walker, “She has breathed life into the issues that affect our community with love, caring, compassion and leadership.”
A few of the many program participants left messages in the chat room. One said, “Congrats Dani!!!! You inspire through action and we love you!” Another said, “Congrats Mama Walker! Love you!!”
Walker had obligations in Charleston and made a brief live appearance. “I am so humbly honored and excited to receive this award,” she said.
She offered a full message in a video. “’I am only me’ has been my declaration since I placed my voice above my privilege,” she said.
She quoted from a letter the Rev. Martin Luther King had written from jail in 1963. “Freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor. It must be demanded by the oppressed.” Nearly 60 years later, she said it’s the same script but a different cast.
“What is our call of action,” she said. “Use your voice and do your job. … Your job is defined by your determination, your motivation,” and comes with no paid holidays or overtime. “Your job is making a better world for you and me.”
Walker’s son Demetry Walker died from leukemia in June and speakers noted that she has led a series of blood drives in his memory since. Walker paid tribute to his memory in her video: “This award is a true honor to my legacy even though a piece of me has transitioned to our Heavenly Father.”
Robinson engaged in a Q&A with Fuller rather than offering a traditional keynote speech. She grew up in Montgomery, Ala., where King lived but she was young then and took it for granted. It wasn’t until she was older and started talking with members of her family about MLK that she learned some interesting things, such as her cousins hung out with him.
Her father worked at an A&P grocery store, she said, and was a union member and a NAACP member. She got a job at the store as a cashier and because of her father’s position was targeted for harassment.
One day, she said, two women came through her line. They hid an object in their cart so Robinson couldn’t see it, and when they passed through the manager immediately approached to accuse her of giving goods away.
Then her father stepped in and handled the situation in a way that impressed her, “He could’ve come at my boss from a father’s point of view and that could have been very bad.” But he handled it calmly as a member of the NAACP. “I got really serious about the NAACP at that point.”
So when she moved to Morgantown, Robinson said, she found a church and joined the local NAACP chapter. Former Morgantown Mayor and Delegate Charlene Marshall was president at the time. Robinson worked her way up and when Marshall stepped down, she was voted in. “I took it very seriously and moved on with our cause.”
Asked what MLK would think of the state of Black life in America today, Robinson said, “I think he would be truly honored in many ways with what we are doing.”
But there’s still work to do, she said. There’s a “problem with working together to find a common cause and solution for issues and problems that we have.”
But she offered encouragement. “When God sees you doing your part and using what he has given you he will open doors.” She quoted MLK: “You don’t need to see the whole staircase, just take the first step.”
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