Groundbreaking South Bay politician receives lifetime achievement award at MLK Day luncheon

Groundbreaking South Bay politician receives lifetime achievement award at MLK Day luncheon

The 44th annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. luncheon, hosted by the African American Community Services Agency on Monday at San Jose State, was a lot of things. It was colorful, powerful, joyful, emotional and very successful, with well over 400 people in the audience at the Student Union Ballroom.

Former San Jose City Councilwoman and Santa Clara County Supervisor Blanca Alvarado said she was “proud and emotional” to receive the Iola M. Williams Lifetime Achievement Award, named after the first Black woman to serve on the San Jose City Council. Williams and Alvarado served together for a decade, from 1981 until Williams’ retirement from the council in 1991. They were the council’s first two women of color.

“Iola Williams was a champion. She was one of the most revolutionary African American women I have ever known,” Alvarado said. “I’m just genuinely proud and emotional to remember Iola. I can feel her standing next to me.”

Marc Lamont Hill delivers the keynote address at the 44th Annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Luncheon, hosted by the African American Community Services Agency at San Jose State University on Monday, Jan. 15, 2023. (Sal Pizarro/Bay Area News Group) 

In addition to Alvarado, a Lifetime Achievement Award was presented to SJSU African American Studies Professor Steven Millner, who was unable to attend; other awards were given to the Billy DeFrank LGBTQ Center; Hellen Sims, the Mission Society president of Lewis Memorial Christian Methodist Episcopal Church in San Jose; Michael-Ray Matthews, the deputy director and chief faith officer for Faith in Action; and Gina Dalma of the Silicon Valley Community Foundation.

The awards came toward the end of a nearly three-hour program that was highlighted by a potent 45-minute keynote address by author, activist and TV host Marc Lamont Hill, and a dramatic performance by Grammy-nominated spoken-word artist Prentice Powell. Representatives from Google and Intel also announced $100,000 and $25,000 funding grants, respectively, to the AACSA for its programs.

GROWING ENDEAVOR: About 150 people participated in Our City Forest’s 30th annual Day of Service on Monday in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day. The group — which included San Jose Mayor Matt Mahan, Assemblymember Ash Kalra, Santa Clara County Supervisor Cindy Chavez and San Jose State President Cynthia Teniente-Matson — planted 29 trees in Kelley Park in San Jose.

Our City Forest Executive Director Rhonda Berry said the nonprofit has planted 298 trees in that particular park, which is home to Happy Hollow Park & Zoo; the Japanese Friendship Garden and History Park; and thousands more across the city.

NEIGHBORHOOD VOICES UNITED: Nine neighborhood associations and two business associations in San Jose’s District 7 have been connected to form the D7 Leadership Group, aiming for a bigger voice at City Hall. And since the central San Jose district is almost entirely within Santa Clara County’s supervisorial District 2, one of the group’s first big events is a candidate forum on Jan. 17 that aims to increase awareness and voter turnout.

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All five candidates — Jennifer Celaya, Betty Duong, Corina Herrera-Loera, Nelson McElmurry and Madison Nguyen — are expected to attend the forum, which happens from 6 to 8 p.m. at the board room of the Franklin McKinley School District Office, 645 Wool Creek Drive. The League of Women Voters will be running the free Q&A event, which will have translation in Spanish and Vietnamese.

Of course, this is just one of many forums that’ll be held this election season throughout San Jose and the valley, but it’s still good to see different neighborhoods come together in a common cause.

THEY WILL ROCK YOU ON IMAX: Science-related movies in the large IMAX format are regular fare for the Tech Interactive, but it’s always interesting to see the learning center screen mainstream movies on the laser-projected dome screen. This weekend only, there’s something that’s even more interesting: “Queen Rock Montreal,” a digitally remastered recording of the group’s live concert in Montreal in 1981. You can get tickets for the movie, which is also playing Jan. 18-21 on other IMAX screens in San Jose, Santa Clara and Sunnyvale, at