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Young people urged to find their cause at MLK celebration

Young people urged to find a cause to help humanity at ASU's MLK Celebration.
January 18, 2018

Annual ASU event marks civil-rights leader's legacy of servant leadership

Cindy McCain told a roomful of young people that even if they haven’t yet found the cause that moves them, they soon will.

“You are next. It’s your time to make the right decisions and live your life in the right way so that you too can help others,” she said.

McCain spoke at the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration at Arizona State University on Thursday morning, where she won the 2018 Community Servant-Leadership Award for her work fighting human trafficking.

“With regard to vulnerable women and children, it’s an area that I’ve worked in for a long time. It is something that moved my heart at a young age,” she said.

She praised ASU for inspiring students to find their causes and to make a difference.

“Make sure you leave this planet a better place than when you stepped on it,” said McCain, who is co-chair of the Arizona Human Trafficking Council and serves on the McCain Institute’s Human Trafficking Advisory Council.

She had hoped to attend the event on ASU’s Tempe campus but instead addressed the crowd via Skype so she could stay at home with her husband, Sen. John McCain, who is recovering from brain surgery.

The breakfast celebration, which has been held for 33 years, had the theme of “Look deeper, speak louder” and included the winners of statewide poster and essay contests for K–12 students, several of whom read their essays. The event was just one of several sponsored by the MLK Committee at ASU, according to Colleen Jennings-Roggensack, vice president of cultural affairs at ASU who served as the emcee of the event.

Last Saturday, more than 300 ASU students spent a day of service on projects including repairing houses for refugees and gardening at a children’s group home. On Wednesday, thousands of young people participated in the “March on West” at ASU’s West campus — a tradition that dates to 1991 — that concluded with a reading of King’s “I Have a Dream” speech.

“Those words are very relevant for us today,” Jennings-Roggensack said. “And we see all of those young people look deeper, speak louder and have an understanding that they are part of the thread and the legacy of Dr. King.”

The winner of the 2018 Student Servant-Leadership Award is Evvan Morton (pictured at the top of this story), a graduate student in the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering and president of the Black Graduate Students Association. She hopes to work in government on science policy issues.

Morton said her research looks at policies that reduce carbon dioxide emissions in order to eliminate the negative effects of climate change.

“Many people see this research as saving the planet, but I am among those who see this as helping to save humanity,” she said. “Regardless if you believe in climate change or not, we collectively need clean water and clean air so that we can sustain the human race.

“In parallel, regardless if you like the color of my skin or not, we collectively need to fight against injustices so that we can sustain our humanity.”

The event also featured a performance by Kristina Wong, a writer, actor and filmmaker who is appearing at ASU Gammage this weekend. She walked through the crowd, flinging pieces of red felt shaped like hashtags as she talked about King’s legacy in the era of Twitter.

“I go on social media and put a hashtag and attach a word to it and I send it out,” she said. “This is how we dialogue with each other. I just tweeted and tweeted and I felt like I was really getting somewhere just lying on my couch creating this revolution.”

Until her account was blocked by several political figures.

“I realized this can’t be the revolution,” she said. “Dr. King did the revolution without Twitter. Maybe we should leave our houses, take to the streets and take action and not just lay on the couch and make demands on our phones.”

For details on the MLK Celebration, including winners, click here. For information on Kristina Wong's performance at ASU Gammage on Saturday, click here.

Top photo: Evvan Morton, a graduate student in the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering, won the Student Servant-Leadership Award at the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration at ASU on Thursday. She also is pursuing a certificate in Responsible Innovation in Science, Engineering and Society from ASU's School for the Future of Innovation in Society. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU Now

Mary Beth Faller

Reporter , ASU Now

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Cindy McCain, ASU student named 2018 ASU MLK Jr. servant-leadership awardees


January 3, 2018

Two Arizona women with a passion for philanthropy have been selected as the 2018 Community Servant-Leadership awardees as a part of Arizona State University's 33rd annual Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration, for their influential work in the community.

Cindy McCain and Evvan Morton will be honored at the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Breakfast Celebration on Jan. 18 at the Memorial Union on ASU's Tempe campus. Cindy McCain and Evvan Morton will be honored at the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Breakfast Celebration on Jan. 18 at the Memorial Union on ASU's Tempe campus. Download Full Image

The awardees were selected by the ASU MLK Jr. Committee for their servant leadership: a philosophy of serving first, then leading as a way of expanding service.

Cindy McCain, Servant-Leadership Award

McCain was stopped at a gas station when she noticed two teenage girls standing outside the convenience store. As she pumped her gas, McCain saw from afar that the girls looked frightened and lost. There was a man standing behind them, almost out of sight. That’s when she realized human trafficking was taking place right before her eyes — in Yuma, Arizona.

Experiences like this drive McCain in her fight against human trafficking. As this year’s MLK Jr. Servant-Leadership Awardee, she will be honored for her significant and interdisciplinary efforts to fight the heinous crime.

“I watched the police come and get that guy and save those two girls,” she recalled. “Every ounce of work I’ve done was worth it that day.”

McCain said her efforts truly began when Arizona was awarded the Super Bowl for 2015, and she used the event’s broad public reach to shed light on the state’s growing human trafficking problem. The result was a greater awareness and more activism throughout the state and country, she said.

In leadership roles such as chair of the McCain Institute Human Trafficking Advisory Council and co-chair of the Arizona Governor’s Council on Human Trafficking, McCain has worked to reduce human trafficking around the world, spread awareness and improve victims’ lives. 

“The human rights violation that human trafficking is and does to human beings is not only a violation, but it’s simply inhumane,” McCain said. “It just is something that to me, I found it unbelievable when I realized it was going on in my own country. A country that I thought, and still do think, is the best in the world — that somehow this could be taking place.”

Like Martin Luther King Jr., McCain expands upon her strong leadership with service.

“It’s difficult to me to completely understand the issue unless you get your feet dirty. You don’t have to travel overseas or spend money, but it’s about seeing firsthand, out on the streets, exactly what’s going on,” she explained.

In Greece and Turkey, McCain taught refugees to identify signs of human trafficking and avoid falling prey to traffickers. She traveled the world to familiarize herself with the many facets of life affected by trafficking including law enforcement, health care, child welfare systems and the internet. 

In the future, McCain hopes to initiate interstate communication between law enforcement officers and educate communities about human trafficking.

She accepts this honor on behalf of the victims of human trafficking, she said.

“Serving and leading are two common core values you try to teach your children. Service to your country and your community,” McCain said. “You as the one serving always gain more than the people you’re trying to help.”

Evvan Morton, Student Servant-Leadership Award

Morton is an Arizona State University graduate student with a passion for environmental change and peer empowerment. She is the 2018 winner of the Martin Luther King Jr. Student Servant-Leadership Award and is working toward getting her master's degree and doctorate in sustainable engineering at ASU. 

“I began learning more about climate change and global warming specifically,” Morton said. “I just felt like there was more that needed to be done in that area because I just kept hearing about the problems, but I wasn’t hearing much about solutions in the field.”

Morton graduated from the University of Cincinnati for her undergraduate degree. She began noticing the impact government actions were having on the environment without knowledge of that impact.

“During my undergrad, I started getting more interested in renewable energy and climate change and things like that,” Morton said. “When I decided to go to graduate school, I just started doing Google searches for those different topics and I started learning more about sustainability as well. Every time I would search things like that, ASU kept popping up, so I knew that was a school I should apply to.”

Morton also finds value in leadership and empowering fellow students. She is the president of the Black Graduate Student Association at ASU. She has worked hard to bring new life into the organization.

“Evann has assumed the call for Black Graduate Student Association,” said Debra Crusoe, program coordinator for the dean of students.

The Black Graduate Student Association has been around since the 1960’s, and Crusoe has been the advisor for the program for 20 years. The organization currently has about 85 listed members. In the past, the organization has been less active, but Morton is reviving the organization as a place for black students to gain support.

“She’s just been ideal for the organization,” Crusoe said. “She’s there on the frontline of women in engineering. She’s just been really good support for underrepresented students in science.”

Morton started out as secretary for the organization and has made her way to president. She believes the organization is vital to assist students of color in finding a community on campus. 

“By being a minority group on campus, it can be overwhelming and it can be difficult feeling like you’re the only one that looks like you,” Morton said. “We want to create a space where you can find other people that look like you and know that you’re not alone and you can build community with them.”

She believes leadership is thinking of the whole of the group instead of oneself as an individual. She feels a deep sense of responsibility to the Black Graduate Student Association.

Morton believes having a strong sense of community can also foster better leadership and role models.

“I also know that there aren’t many women, let alone black women, in engineering fields or science fields,” Morton said. “It’s important to me to talk to other girls that may be interested in those fields, or even if they’re not, just to know that there are other black women in the field so that they can realize it’s a possibility for them as well.”

Morton looks up to Michelle Obama for her ability to connect to people and empower others to be their best. She appreciates her ability to relate to people and believes Obama uses her influence to make a difference. Morton also looks up to Condoleezza Rice and Hillary Clinton for their leadership and achievements. 

“I’m very interested in working in government because I’ve learned … that many of the decisions, specifically in scientific issues … pertaining to renewable energy and to climate change and energy development, are made by leaders that do not necessarily have knowledge in these fields.”

Morton continues to chase her goals. She is interested in working for the Department of Energy or the Department of State. She wants to continue to foster her fascination with renewable energy development to help countries to reduce their negative impact on the environment.

Catherine Hathaway contributed to this story.

Marketing and Communications Assistant, ASU Gammage

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