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Ashley A. Hines, Nicholas Gunn, African American History and Literature Gallery named Spirit of MLK Spotlight recipients

The MLK Celebration Week 2023, a community-wide effort honoring the life and legacy of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., marked the return of the MLK Celebration and Community Breakfast on Monday morning in Grand Upton Hall of Lake Michigan College’s Mendel Center.  

Held virtually the past two years due to the COVID-19 pandemic, more than 450 people attended the in-person event, which featured a keynote address from Jerry Price, Advisor, Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Partner, Corewell Health East, inspirational musical performances from local choirs, and the announcement of the 2023 Spirit of MLK Spotlight recipients. 

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. 

Spotlight recipients were Ashley A. Hines, founder and executive director of the Benton Harbor Community Development Corporation, Nicholas Gunn, an 18-year-old Berrien Springs High School graduate attending Andrews University, and The African American History and Literature Gallery, celebrating its fifth year as a valued presence in the Benton Harbor community. 

Ashley A. Hines ­­– Individual Spotlight  

Ashley A. Hines is the founder and executive director of the Benton Harbor Community Development Corporation. Its mission is to strengthen the community of Benton Harbor socioeconomically, mentally, and physically by supporting and empowering residents through community development projects and programming.  

The organization’s holistic approach to building community is guided by innovation, equity, and collaboration. To achieve the shared vision of a thriving community, the BHCDC facilitates people-centered and community-led programming in homebuying education, food sovereignty, mental health, social cohesion, and community development. 

"Thank you so much for this recognition,” Hines told the crowd during Monday’s event. “Thank you for seeing me and seeing our work. We may not be able to change the world, but we may be able to change our little corner of it.” 

Ashley began her service career in 2010, working with the mentally disabled and unhoused people as a coordinator for Shelter Plus Care by connecting clients to resources, assisting with their treatment, and identifying long-term housing options. 

She transitioned into event production and project management, with an emphasis on fundraising and development, in 2012, working for universities, non-profits, law firms, restaurants, political figures, authors, and professional athletes in the Baltimore and Washington, DC areas before returning to her hometown of Benton Harbor in 2020. 

Ashley has worked with youth through Orita's Cross Freedom School, which uses cultural awareness, civic engagement demonstrations, mentoring, and the arts to equip youth to be agents of transformation in their community. She has served on the board of the Black Church Food Security Network, an organization working to co-create sustainable food systems across the United States anchored by Black churches, working in partnership with Black farmers and small business owners. 

Ashley received her bachelor's degree in Family and Consumer Science from Morgan State University, a Historically Black College and University (HBCU) in Baltimore, Maryland. 

She sits on the boards of ZOY Adventures, a non-profit committed to encouraging individual connection to self, community, and planet through outdoor adventure, and Harbor Impact Foundation, a non-profit working to establish a state-of-the-art indoor facility for children in and around Benton Harbor. 

Whether it's curating experiences or striving to work with communities to build systems against systemic racism, Ashley's work continues to be a love letter to Black people, honoring, highlighting, and preserving Black culture and community. 

Nicholas Gunn – Student Spotlight  

Nicholas Gunn is an 18-year-old Berrien Springs High School graduate attending Andrews University, majoring in Secondary Education and Political Science with a minor in Public Relations.  

In 2022, Nicholas was awarded Andrews University's George Floyd Scholarship for his leadership and dedication to community service. 

Nicholas is a cadet firefighter for St. Joseph Charter Township Station No. 2, a board member for the Benton Harbor Arts Association, a member of Corewell Health South's (formerly Spectrum Health Lakeland) Community Advocate Committee, a Co-Chairman of the Fresh Start Children's Garden in Benton Harbor, and a member of both Andrews University's Community Engagement Committee and Benton Harbor's Master Plan Steering Committee. 

"There are so many people in this room who have been so supportive, so loving,” Gunn said after being recognized. “I must have had 50 hugs today. We need that love. We need unity in Southwest Michigan.” 

During his senior year of high school, Nick organized an after-school Bible study, which grew to more than 120 students, meeting regularly and volunteering with local organizations. The program remains active on Instagram with over 700 followers as Nick continues to motivate others to serve. 

He is a volunteer Bible study teacher at Pioneer Memorial Church and TruDat Praise & Worship, focusing on concerts and faith-based events. 

Nick worked as a teacher's assistant at Blossomland Learning Center this past year. He continues to be a guest speaker at local events, churches, and schools across Southwest Michigan.   

Nick started a YouTube Channel and website, Nick Eats (, to showcase local businesses during the COVID-19 pandemic. He writes for the Benton Spirit Newspaper, Moody on the Market, Lake Union Herald, and Andrews University’s public relations. Nick is a radio host for WVBH 105.3 -FM, announcer for WAUS 90.7-FM, and Community & Media Engagement Ambassador for Benton Harbor Team Solutions. 

Nick was named to Moody on the Markets' 40 under 40 Class of 2022. At 18, he is the youngest recipient to receive that honor. 

He currently holds the honorable title of Mr. Benton Harbor for his dedication to serving the community. 

The African American History and Literature Gallery – Organization Spotlight  

The African American History and Literature Gallery, founded in 2018 by Sharon and Emanuel Brown, is celebrating its fifth year as a valued presence in the Benton Harbor community. 

The mission of the African American History and Literature Gallery is to engage communities in fostering unity in differences and developing an appreciation for the African American experience through the arts, history, and culture. The gallery strives to be an integral asset to the region's cultural backdrop by making a meaningful impact on visitors' lives by understanding how local history is essential to America's history. 

Through a strong community commitment and an unwavering willingness to help shape the lives of the young and those not so young, the gallery serves the communities of diverse families and individuals in Benton Harbor and Saint Joseph, as well as the surrounding areas, through its active engagement with local public and private schools, church organizations, clubs, class reunions, businesses, and other member organizations. 

Its collections include books, magazines, memorabilia, painting, prints, and other culturally relevant artifacts. Programs include opportunities for teachers and the community to study and conduct research, for families to participate in fun learning activities, and for adults to participate in fireside chats. The gallery also runs tours for school groups, youth programs, faith-based community organizations, and tourist groups from outside the area.   

Educators utilizing the gallery as a resource have noted measurable growth, understanding, and retention among students who consistently participated in the gallery's history instruction programs. In the aftermath of social injustice, citizens have often used the gallery as a safe and invaluable space to engage in sensitive dialogue, addressing concerns on issues of racial disparities. 

The Browns said that they are “thankful for other regional cultural entities that have influenced and defined the gallery's effectiveness in becoming a community institution and a viable self-development tool focused on bringing enlightenment, awareness, and a spirit of healing to all willing and open to share in the journey.” 

During Monday’s keynote address, Jerry Price referenced King’s “I Have a Dream” speech, delivered during the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom on Aug. 28, 1963, and the 2023 MLK Celebration Week theme, “Keep Moving Forward,” inspired by King's speech, "Keep Moving from This Mountain," delivered April 10, 1960, in an address at Spelman College in Atlanta.  

"His dream has not yet been fulfilled,” Price said. “We must keep moving forward in this work. Today must be an opportunity, a charge, that we must continue to move. Sometimes the conversation of change is not the conversation of comfort. We must push past comfort. We must have the curiosity to speak to those who are different than us. We still have a journey in front of us. We still have work to do.” 

Monday’s celebration also featured an invocation by Rev. Dr. Sid Mohn, Coordinator, Interfaith Action, welcome messages from LMC President Dr. Trevor A. Kubatzke and LMC Dean, Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, Cam Herth, a video message from Donovan Frazier, the Boys & Girls Club Youth of the Year, remarks from St. Joseph Mayor Laura Goos and Benton Harbor Mayor Marcus Muhammad, a charge by LMC Vice President of Student Affairs Nygil Likely, and musical performances by the LMC Concert Choir, and All God's Children Choir. Herth, LMC Mendel Center Executive Director Mike Nadolski, LMC Dean of Arts & Sciences Kris Zook, and LMC Start-to-Finish Director Charmae Sanders served as emcees during the event. 

The MLK Celebration Week 2023, which continues through Saturday, Jan. 21, is presented by Lake Michigan College and sponsors Whirlpool Corp., Corewell Health South (formerly Spectrum Health Lakeland), Kinexus Group, United Way of Southwest Michigan, and Andrews University. 

Remaining events include (events are held at LMC Mendel Center except where noted):   

All Week  

• United Way of Southwest Michigan 10-day Equity Challenge  

 • Volunteer Service Opportunities  

• MLK Art Activity Packets  

Tuesday, Jan. 17  

• MLK Storytime and All-Day Craft, 10:30 a.m., Coloma Public Library   

 • MLK Storytime, 10:30 a.m., Three Oaks Township Library  

 • Letters from MLK, 6:30 p.m., Niles District Library  

 • Panel Discussion, "Racism & Religion: Are We Practicing What We Preach?", 7 p.m.  

Wednesday, Jan. 18  

• MLK Storytime and Craft, 10:30 a.m., Buchanan District Library   

 • MLK Storytime and Craft, 10:30 a.m., Niles District Library  

 • MLK Storytime, 11:30 a.m., Benton Harbor Public Library  

• MLK All-Day Craft, Lincoln Township Public Library  

 • Panel Discussion, "What is Allyship? Neighbors Organizing Against Racism," 7 p.m.  

Thursday, Jan. 19  

• MLK Storytime, 10 a.m., Lake Michigan College Library  

 • MLK Storytime, 4 p.m., New Buffalo Township Library  

 • MLK Storytime, 4:30 p.m., Three Oaks Township Library   

 • Will Haygood, Pre-Speaker Dinner, 5:30 p.m., ticketed event  

 • "Colorization: One Hundred Years of Black Films in a White World "with Wil Haygood, 7:30 p.m., ticketed event  

Friday, Jan. 20  

• Saxophonist Erick Oneal Fisher & 3CM Concert, 7 p.m.  

Saturday, Jan. 21  

• MLK Basketball Games, LMC Women vs. Glen Oaks, 1 p.m., LMC Men vs. Glen Oaks, 3 p.m., Lake Michigan College Gym (Spotlight recipients to be honored). 

In addition to these events, several resources also can be found on These resources include the Underrepresented Businesses Directory, an awareness and equity guide to woman-and-minority-owned businesses in Berrien, Van Buren, and Cass counties; an MLK Resource Gallery for books, podcasts, films, community resources, and more that explore race relations, bias, racism, and current events; and MLK Artistic Reflections, where people submit their creative reflections about King and his legacy.  

Most events are free. To sign-up for individual programs or more information, visit   

For answers to additional questions, contact Sonda Wagner at 269-927-8158 or

2023 Spirit of MLK Spotlight recipients

The 2023 Spirit of MLK Spotlight recipients, from left, Nicholas Gunn, Ashley A. Hines, and Emanuel and Sharon Brown, were honored Monday, Jan. 16, during the MLK Celebration and Community Breakfast in Grand Upton Hall of Lake Michigan College's Mendel Center in Benton Harbor.

Media Contact

Jeremy D. Bonfiglio
Marketing & Communications Specialist
Lake Michigan College
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