While the groundhogs were busy trying predict spring, the Muncie and Ball State communities got together to kick off Black History Month.

Martin Luther King Dream Team (MLKDT), a Muncie community volunteer group, hosted an event titled “Walking Together: Steps Toward Reconciliation.” They marked the beginning of Black History Month at 9:30 a.m., Saturday at Minnetrista. Elected officials, community leaders and students were in attendance at the event.

Before the performances and award ceremonies began, Muncie Mayor Dennis Tyler delivered his proclamation declaring February 2019 as Black History Month in Muncie.

In his proclamation speech, Tyler said, “It is a very important month for our community, our state and our country and it’s always important for us to get to be a part of that.”

Following his proclamation, Ball State’s Ethnic Theatre Alliance (ETA) delivered a performance based around the event’s theme of reconciliation, drawing attention to the performers’ dreams, aspirations and experiences by relating them to notable figures in America’s black community.

“I think there was so many different themes we tried to show throughout the time, showcasing it,” said Immanuel Simon, vice president of ETA. “So what I think the biggest story is that like to keep being yourself and to keep growing into who you are.”

“I really appreciate the students at Ball State University,” Tyler said. “And I love seeing them being vested in our community and speaking up just like the theatre group.”

The Mayor James P. Carey Community Service Awards were then presented. Melinda Messineo, interim associate vice president for diversity and interim director of the office of institutional diversity, was one of the awardees. 

Messineo was presented this award for her work with Ball State students and the Muncie community facilitating 18 immersive learning experiences, including partnerships with local organizations.

“When I work with students who grew up in Muncie, they will frequently say, ‘I had no idea. Like, I never been able to connect with my community in this way.' So, I really love the immersive learning model, and I love the way it helps us all get connected with the community,” Messineo said.

One such experience was co-facilitating an internship with Dorica Watson, community engagement manager at Second Harvest Food Bank and coordinator of Forward S.T.E.P.S., a relationship-based empowerment initiative, who also won the award.

“One of the things I love about that program is it empowers the families to navigate their path out of poverty, but it also mobilizes the community to figure out how they can best remove barriers for people as they are working their way out of poverty,” Messineo said.

Other winners included the Collective Coalition for Concerned Clergy and Delaware County Historical Society (DCHS).

The Daily News previously reported DCHS has been working on creating a statue of Hurley Goodall, a prominent African-American figure in the Muncie community. Chris Flook, president of DCHS, said it’s going to have the statue done in the spring and will dedicate it on Goodall’s 92nd birthday on May 23, 2019.

Also awarded were students from schools in the Muncie community for an essay contest. Duncan Kinsey-Sherrill, a freshman at Muncie Central High School, won the contest in the high school division.

“The fact that it is such a big month for many people, and that I’m being recognized for something I wrote is — since I’ve always wanted to be a writer in a way — so it’s really special to me." Kinsey-Sherrill said. 

Kinsey-Sherrill said that he hopes his essay brings people long disconnected by past problems, such as sexism and racism, together. 

Announcing the essay competition winners was Stephen Edwards, interim superintendent of Muncie Community Schools. He said having an event like the essay competition “creates an avenue to engage our youth.”

“They need to know their history. They need to know where we’ve been, where we’re going and what this is about,” Edwards said. “It’s very important for our students to be involved in this.”

The event’s silent auction served as a fundraiser for running the MLKDT’s civil rights programs, primarily the Freedom Bus, said Beth Messner, associate professor of Communication Studies and chairperson of the event.

The Freedom Bus, a mobile civil rights history museum, was found vandalized November 2016, according to previous Daily News reports.

WaTasha Barnes Griffin, chair of MLKDT and director of the Muncie YWCA, said while the bus has recovered from the vandalism, they still need to raise funds for small repairs. The bus is currently housed in an enclosed garage owned by Whitely Community Council, she said.

“The involvement that [MLKDT] have in the community and the positive awareness that they take forward in the community for social injustice for everyone, for economic injustice for everyone, I see them continuing to be a very positive, outspoken, very progressive part of our community,” Tyler said.

Contact Rohith Rao with comments at rprao@bsu.edu or on Twitter @RaoReports. Contact Timoria Cunningham with comments at tjcunningha3@bsu.edu.