DMPS teachers Kristopher Rollins and Emily Lang – co-founders of Movement 515, RunDSM and the Urban Leadership Academy – received the Mary McCleod Bethune Award at last night’s annual Iowa Juneteenth Community Builders banquet. The award recognizes educators who demonstrate a commitment to empowering and uplifting others to be the best they can be.

Juneteenth became an official day in Iowa on April 11, 2002, by virtue of legislation designating that Juneteenth be observed annually on the third Saturday in June.

The event marks the day more than 150 years ago when the last vestige of slavery was ended in Texas, approximately 2½ years after Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation.

“Your tireless work at DMPS hasn’t gone unnoticed, you have served this community well, evidenced by the impact that you have made on young people in this city,” said Dwana Bradley, on behalf of the Iowa Juneteenth Committee in recognizing this year’s honorees.

Mary McLeod Bethune was an American educator and civil rights leader who co-founded Bethune-Cookman University, the National Council of Negro Women and served as an advisor to President Franklin D. Roosevelt. She was also a poet, like so many of Rollins’ and Lang’s students. Here’s an excerpt from My Last Will and Testament:

“I leave you love. I leave you hope. I leave you the challenge of developing confidence in one another. I leave you a thirst for education. I leave you a respect for the use of power. I leave you faith. I leave you racial dignity. I leave you a desire to live harmoniously with your fellow men. I leave you finally, a responsibility to our young people.”

All of those legacies left in the capable, caring hands of successors like Rollins and Lang who keep racking up awards named in honor of others who came before them.

They shared the 2013 Phyllis Yager Memorial Commitment to Diversity Award, given by the University of Iowa College of Education to teachers who “demonstrate an innovative and unique perspective on promoting and building respect for diversity in the classroom by going above and beyond required curriculum.”

“We hope we honor our students by constantly examining equitable practices and self-reflecting on the ways we use our power as a tool to serve,” said Lang. “This award belongs to the young people. They are a testament to what can happen when you spend time creating spaces built on love, energetic reciprocity, and collective voice. Their brilliance and what they are capable of does not go unnoticed in our space.”

Nor does it go unnoticed around the country when spoken word poets represent the district at the Brave New Voices International Youth Poetry Festival every summer. Next month, this year’s squad of Rollins/Lang protégés heads for Houston.

Don’t be surprised if someday, their own legacy is embodied in an award bearing their names, one reserved for teachers who sow hope where there is despair, encourage activism in the face of injustice and erase lines of division.

Until then, continued kudos to a determined pair of difference-makers!

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