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Marvin Perry is named 2023 Diversity Champion in the Town of Paradise Valley

Photo of award bestowed to Marvin Perry for his work

Spiritual Assembly of the Baha’i hosts silver
jubilee MLK day observance program

By Terrance Thornton | Digital Free Press

The Local Spiritual Assembly of the Baha’i and community members from all over the Valley of the Sun gathered Monday, Jan 16, at Paradise Valley Town Hall to honor the life, message and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. — a celebratory observance of racial equality now in its 25th year.

About 250 people came to Town Hall, 6401 E. Lincoln Drive, to honor the ideas presented to the world by Dr. King and in a salute to those efforts honored Marvin Perry, founder of the Black Board of Directors Project, as the 2023 Diversity Award recipient.

The beloved annual event featured expert jazz musicians providing a preview in tribute to the upcoming Scottsdale Jazz Festival with William ‘Doc’ Jones leading the trio through two exquisite musical interludes during the 90-minute program.

Also, in addition to keynote speakers, there was a brief moderated panel discussion titled, ‘The Urgency of Now,’ by the revered Dr. Neal Lester, foundation professor of English at Arizona State University.

“To honor Dr. King is to remind us of this precious heritage,” said Nicholas Mentha, who has served on the Paradise Valley MLK committee for the past decade.

Mr. Mentha pointed out the Paradise Valley Police Department was an early sponsor of the event, explaining that early on in the effort the holiday observed wasn’t fully adopted in every state of the nation until 2000.

“As stewards of what, you might ask? Stewards and trustees of this precious heritage,” he said. “The Paradise Valley Police Department was one of the first police department’s in all of the country to be part of the MLK event early on.”

Essay contest winners named

An essay contest is held every year where all students part of schools in and around the Town of Paradise Valley write on themes surrounding racial equality and how they view its place in their lives. This year’s winners are:

  • Fifth Grade — Victor Waters-Yanez
  • Sixth Grade — Alex Ekpo
  • Seventh Grade — Jesse Clarke
  • Eighth Grade — Lili Chaidez

Mr. Mentha explained to those in attendance the essay contest was meant to spur thoughts and discussions in local households.

“This effort was able to create multi-generational conversations happening at home,” he said. “We wanted these concepts to get out of here and impact families and society.”

Paradise Valley Mayor Jerry Bien-Willner offered words of welcome at the event.

“I speak here on behalf of the Town Council, and I just wanted to welcome all of you,” he said. “We are here together, we are here to learn, and we are here to reward the works of those in the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. This event, for me, is a chance to center myself, and my hope is that everyone feels as uplifted as I do when I leave here. This is our family room this morning and we want you to think of it as your living room for this time, and moving forward.”

A view of Marvin Perry delivering remarks during the Jan. 16 celebratory observance of racial equality at Paradise Valley Town Hall hosted by The Local Spiritual Assembly of the Baha’i. (Photo: Terrance Thornton/DigitalFreePress.com)

Marvin Perry named 2023 Diversity Champion

Mr. Perry began his remarks recalling what he thought the first time he heard the song ‘A Change is Gonna Come’ by Sam Cooke when he was young.

“I always thought of myself like that. I was born close to a river and I felt like I was running ever since,” he said remarking he wasn’t sure the audience would know the reference.

Mr. Perry, who was born in 1944 in Elmore City, Oklahoma, said he remembers racial segregation. He pointed out during his primary years his experience was rather pleasant but entering high school that changed.

“My high school years were completely different, about a 180 (degrees),” he said pointing out over the 12 years from the desegregation of schools until he graduated a total of two African Americans graduated from his local high school. Mr. Perry explained tens of his peers dropped out due to racial tension.

“It was particularly difficult; I was small and weighed 80 pounds — I was an easy target.”

“I went ahead and completed high school anyway and then I was told I should go to college, but I was looking at entrepreneurship and I had an uncle who was doing very well. As a single man, however, a lot of the young ladies I was interested in were going to college. Well, I got hooked.”

Mr. Perry went on to complete under and graduate degrees from the University of Central Oklahoma and Oklahoma State University, respectively.

“I always had an interest in helping society and that really started in Omaha, Nebraska,” he said recalling his time in both private and public sector banking and his time serving on community boards.

“One of the things they are going to judge you by is what they know about you,” he said of advice he gives those he had mentored. “One of the ways you can overcome anything negative is to plunge into community service and I ended up making sure people in the corporate world were aware of entrepreneurial opportunities.”

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