MLK Celebration commemorates civil rights leader, awards community members for their achievements

Joshua Schuetz
Staff Writer

“Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, ‘What are you doing for others?’” This question, posed by Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. many years ago, remains vital to this day.

The recipients of the Pathfinder Awards, honored at the 35th celebration of Martin Luther King Jr. Day at the Centennial Student Union on the campus of Minnesota State University, Mankato, have answered that question not with words, but with actions.

Sheri Allen, former Mankato School District Superintendent, won the Leadership Pathfinder award for her work in education.

Allen spoke extensively about the importance of making public schools equitable, something which Dr. King fought for throughout his life, and something which America has yet to accomplish. 

Allen said, “We have disparities between our students of color and others, especially our white students.

“We need to acknowledge that we have multiple languages in our school district.”

Besides racial and linguistic diversity, Allen spoke about the importance of expanding inclusivity to disabled students and students in special education. 

The Youth Pathfinder Award recipient, Kyle Kehoe, would know a thing or two about that. Kehoe mentors special education students, particularly freshmen, in order to better acclimate them to high school life. His mother, Cindy Kehoe, said, “He works with the LINK Crew at Mankato East High School.”

Special education students and students with disabilities face disparities in the American education system, something that Kehoe and the LINK Crew have been working hard at fixing. His work includes orientation programs, workshops designed to help students succeed in high school. Study groups and improving social life are also aspects of the LINK Crew’s work. “They help to facilitate camaraderie,” said Cindy Kehoe.

Education is incredibly important, but it’s not the only aspect of American life that needs to make strides in fulfilling Dr. King’s dream of inclusion and equality for all. Businesses have a part to play too. 

Dan and Angie Bastian, the founders and former owners of BoomChickaPop and winners of the Business Pathfinder Award, have risen to that challenge. The couple has partnered with numerous organizations, including I Am That Girl and Partners for Affordable Housing, in order to make a difference throughout the country.

Their work has been challenging, to say the least. Dan Bastian said, “It’s hard to start a business from scratch. You’re trying to get through every day on little sleep, wondering if you’re doing the right thing.”

As their business grew, they hired more and more employees, creating numerous jobs throughout the Greater Mankato Area. Employee well-being has always been a prime focus for the Bastians. “When you have employees, you want to make sure that the business does well so that your employees do well,” said Angie Bastian.

The Bastians have done work internationally, supporting farmers and small business owners in burgeoning economies. Their work has helped make the global economy more inclusive.

The winners of the main Pathfinder Award were Dan and Kirstin Cronn-Mills. The Cronn-Mills are the founders of the Ally Network, a Facebook group that supports marginalized communities and works to encourage activism. 

Founded in the wake of the 2016 election, the group now has over 1000 members and is still growing. 

Kirstin Cronn-Mills said, “The Ally Network is a place for a community of like-minded individuals to come together and practice showing solidarity together.” The network serves as a support group and information clearing house, so that marginalized people can find each other and work with each other. Egalitarianism and allyship are deeply important to the organization’s mission. “We’re allies,” Dan Cronn-Mills said. “We support, we don’t direct.” 

Indeed, the Pathfinder Award winners have worked to fulfill Dr. King’s legacy. We ought to follow his example and theirs as we work to make our community and all communities throughout America safe, humane, and equitable for all.

Feature photo by Maria Ly | MSU Reporter.

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