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Mabel Lee Johnson receives Martin Luther King Jr. Diversity Award Endowed scholarship established i

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January 21, 2020

Mabel Lee Johnson was posthumously honored as Lake Michigan College’s Martin Luther King Jr. Diversity Award recipient during the college’s 25th annual Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration and Community Breakfast on Monday, Jan. 20 in The Mendel Center’s Grand Upton Hall on the Benton Harbor campus.   


It was a record-breaking year for attendance with more than 600 guests who braved the winter weather to come together and reflect on King’s legacy of service.  


Presenters included Kelly Leadership Group, LLC President and CEO Alonzo Kelly; LMC Board of Trustees Chair Debra Johnson; LMC President Dr. Trevor Kubatzke; and U.S. Congressman Fred Upton.  


Upton sang a verse of the folk song, “Abraham, Martin and John,” and stated that “we have not made the progress in the way that we treat each other or the way we talk to each other and it still divides us.”  


LMC students, Lezlyn Villa and Shaniya Sanders, both from Holland, Mich., read their award-winning, “A Legacy of Service” essays. Guests enjoyed performances by LMC’s Soundwaves acapella group and The All God’s Children Community Choir.  


Mabel Lee Johnson, a former resident of Benton Harbor who passed away on Jan. 22, 2019, at age 98, was selected by the LMC Board of Trustees for her work as a diversity pioneer, educator and volunteer.  For the past 19 years, LMC has recognized individuals or area organizations who embody the work of Martin Luther King, Jr.   


Johnson’s daughter, Chief Judge for Berrien County Trial Court, Mabel Johnson Mayfield, accepted the award on her behalf. 


“Darkness cannot drive out darkness. Only light can do that,” Johnson Mayfield said. “Hate cannot drive out hate. Only love can do that. Mabel Lee Johnson loved. …. I ask of you, if her, why not you?”  


Kubatzke announced the creation of a $500 Mabel Lee Johnson Scholarship, and in response, Mayfield announced her family’s gift of an additional endowed scholarship fund.  


“A scholarship in her name took our breath away,” Johnson Mayfield said. “It was a family decision that an endowed scholarship should be established in her name to ensure, at minimum, one scholarship recipient on the campus of LMC in perpetuity, God willing for the next 100-plus years.”  


The scholarship will be named “Impact 356” after Johnson’s favorite Bible verse, Proverbs, Chapter Three, Verses Five and Six. Johnson Mayfield invited the crowd to chip in stating, “If you desire to be a part of the Impact 356 scholarship legacy, your contribution is graciously appreciated and will be added to the endowment fund.”   


Almost 30 people have already come forward to donate. Anyone else interested in contributing to the fund may contact Barbara Craig at the LMC Foundation at


For photos and a video of the event, visit


Ms. Johnson was the ninth of 10 children born to Hosie and Jannie Lee on Feb. 13, 1920, in an area known as “Dark Corner” in Cotton Plant, Arkansas. She completed two years at Arkansas Baptist College when she accepted the marriage proposal of the Rev. Thomas Paul Johnson with the stipulation that he would not hinder her desire to be the first of her siblings to complete college. They married on Aug. 23, 1942, and in 1949, she graduated from Arkansas Agricultural, Mechanical & Normal College — now known as the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff —with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Education. 


Ms. Johnson taught for 21 years in Arkansas and 24 years in Indiana, impacting the lives of students and parents at seven different elementary schools during her career. By her husband’s side, she also served as First Lady to five different congregations. For decades, she served in various positions in the State and National Baptist Conventions, where she met and engaged with Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. She was associated with those involved with the desegregation work of the Little Rock 9 and the Arkansas NAACP. 


From 1963-1999, the Johnsons served at Galilee Missionary Baptist Church in Gary, Indiana. She was instrumental in the Ministerial Wives Coterie of Gary that collaborated on the integration of the membership of Church Women United in the mid-1960s.  


Ms. Johnson was a lifelong member of the NAACP. When her husband retired in 1999 and they relocated to Benton Harbor to be close to their daughter and her family, she transferred her active participation to Church Women United – Area V, and also began volunteering at the Readiness Center, a commitment she continued through December 2018. 


In addition to Monday’s celebration, LMC will be honoring Martin Luther King Jr. throughout the week with a series of events.  


·         What Can Be Done to Reduce Prejudice and Discrimination? 
Noon-1:30 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 21, Grand Upton Hall, Mendel Center 
The community, LMC students and employees will have the opportunity to hear this free panel discussion featuring Kortney Moore, Calling All Colors, Co-Director and All God's Children Community Choir, Choir Director; Sandy Feldman, Race Relations Council, Board Secretary, All God's Children Community Choir Co-Founder and Choir Director, and  Calling All Colors Board Member; and 
Charmae Sanders, Lake Michigan College Start to Finish Operations Manager. 

·         Red Hawks Volunteer: Hats and Scarves 
11:30 a.m.-2 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 22, Hawk’s Nest, Main Building 
LMC students will be making hats and scarves for those in the community in need.   

·         Building Bridges Across the Racial Divide 
Noon-1 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 22, Blue Lecture Hall, Main Building 
Local authors Larry and Sandy Feldman will present a free discussion of concepts and examples drawn from their recently published book, Building Bridges Across the Racial Divide. This book offers a hopeful view of how well-constructed diversity initiatives can combat entrenched racial prejudice and segregation.  Book signing directly following. All are invited to attend.   

·         Red Hawks Volunteer: Bean Soup Packing 
11:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 22, Hawk’s Nest, Main Building 
LMC students will help assemble dried bean soup and rice packets for area food pantries.