CHARLOTTE, N.C. — A longtime African-American and LGBT community leader was honored Monday morning with the city’s annual award named in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
Jermaine Nakia Lee is thought to be the first openly gay person to receive the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Medallion Award, presented to locals who exemplify the ideals of King. The award was presented this morning during the city’s and McCrorey Family YMCA’s annual MLK Holiday Prayer Breakfast at the Charlotte Convention Center.
Lee is a founder of several black gay Pride events across the Carolinas, including in Charlotte and Columbia. A native of Miami, Fla, Lee is also a playwright and artist, writing the musicals “For the Love of Harlem,” which explores historical LGBT individuals from the black Harlem renaissance, and “Take a Walk in My Shoes,” exploring the lives of teenagers living with HIV/AIDS.
Lee works as the MPowerment Coordinator for the PowerHouse Project, an HIV prevention and education agency offering a drop-in center, testing services and other health and social services for young men of color.
“I am completely humbled by the nomination alone,” Lee said in an interview last week, in anticipation of the award ceremony. Lee was considered for the award along with two other nominees.
“One of my beloved mentors once told me that ‘a life of service is generally a thankless job. Don’t expect any appreciation or validation. Be motivated by your heart for people,'” Lee said. “I’ve certainly found that to be true but this recognition proves there are some exceptions to the rule. I have intentionally modeled my life and consciousness after that of Dr. King.”
Lee said it “feels good” to be recognized for his community work in the arts, HIV/AIDS prevention and LGBT empowerment, and he thinks it’s significant that the city has bestowed the award on a member of the LGBT community.
Lee said, in anticipation of the honor: “Before she passed, Coretta Scott King declared that Dr. King would have been a champion for LGBT rights were he alive. That revelation stunned many African-Americans and angered her fundamentalist daughter Bernice King. I am a proud African-American same gender loving man. I am a father to two beautiful boys. I am a loving partner. I am an artist, an educator and healer. So receiving the city’s MLK Medallion award would bring more visibility and awareness of the rich contributions of Charlotte’s diverse LGBT community. I believe my nomination as a finalist also speaks to the growing culture of acceptance and inclusive in our city. It’s exciting to consider the impact that a Black gay man winning the medallion would have on this community’s social conscious.”
The Monday breakfast rounds out a weekend-long celebration of King and community. On Saturday, the city held its annual MLK Holiday Parade, including a contingent of nearly two-dozen representatives from local LGBT community groups organized by the local Human Rights Campaign steering committee. On Sunday, HRC presented a screening of the new film, “Selma,” which recounts the 1965 Selma to Montgomery voting rights marches. About 150 people attended the free screening at AMC Northlake.
On Monday, members of HRC and other community groups are participating in a volunteer day of service at the offices of Time Out Youth Center and the Regional AIDS Interfaith Network.