MLive: MLK Day celebration honors senator for Flint water aid

U.S. 6th Circuit Appeals Court Judge Damon Keith, U.S. Sen. Gary Peters and a pair of Detroit activists were honored Monday with awards from a national civil rights organization in a Detroit Martin Luther Kind Day celebration.

The National Action Network -- Rev. Al Sharpton's national activist organization, which has an active Michigan branch -- held its 4th annual Dream Keepers MLK Day brunch at the Detroit Athletic Club.

"Our country is a great country because we've got great people. We've got great strong laws," said keynote speaker Bernice B. Donald, U.S. 6th Circuit Appeals Court judge.

"'A lawyer is either a social engineer or a parasite on society,'" she said, quoting W.E.B. Du Bois. "I say to you that strong laws are important, but strong laws don't create justice. Laws can only create just results when men and women of good will deem it important."

Rev. Charles E. Williams II, head of NAN's Michigan chapter, said Peters was recognized for his "dedication to the community and the state."

"We know that people get elected and they start acting like monarchs, but he is one who has stayed faithful to being a public servant," Williams said.

The recognition was in part for Peters efforts toward securing funding for Flint's water crisis.

Peters and U.S. Rep. Dan Kildee and Sen. Debbie Stabenow worked to secure a $170 million aid package for Flint after dangerously high lead levels were discovered in the city's tap water.

Peters called the recognition "humbling."

"There were an awful lot of folks rallying around the catastrophic situation that fell upon the people in the city of Flint," he said. "This means a lot because National Action Network were actively involved in the Flint crisis and trying to secure federal funds."

Peters said it wasn't easy convincing lawmakers in Washington that a man-made crisis deserved the sort of federal aid granted to areas struck by natural disaster.

"If you look into the eyes of a child who's suffering as a result of tainted water, that child doesn't care if it's a man-made problem or a natural problem. It is a crisis in their lives and we need to deal with it," he said.

"NAN and the people and this organization traveled to Washington, D.C. to put a human face on the crisis, pushed very aggressively and were very instrumental in our ability to secure the funding."

He said citizen action is key to fighting for Michigan.

"Martin Luther King, Jr. taught us that the only way you can be successful is if you're united and if you stand up and make sure your voice is heard ... and we're going to need to do that going forward," he said.

Activists Eddie People and Crystal Linton Barnes also received Dream Keepers awards.

A Lifetime Achievement Award was presented to U.S. 6th Circuit Appeals Court Judge Damon Keith, whose decisions as a federal judge over 50 years have desegregated schools, halted secret deportation hearings and stopped a warrantless wiretapping program.

Keith's fellow judge Donald noted in her keynote speech said there continues to be gross racial disparity in the criminal justice system in the U.S., citing an NAACP statistic that African Americans constitute 1 million of 2.3 million incarcerated people in the country.

"Children of incarcerated parents have lower graduation rates," and are often doomed to repeat negative outcomes, Donald said.

She pushed the phrase "dream in action," which she said represents a "quiet persistence from the heart that enables us to ride out the storms of life's turning experiences."

"Dr. King laid out the framework, but he requires us to do our part," she said.

By:  Dana Afana
Source: MLive