MANCHESTER — The Manchester High School Central students who have worked for nearly three years to put a student on the Manchester school board received the Vanessa Johnson Award at the Martin Luther King Jr. Day celebration.

In its 37th year, the celebration draws activists, politicians, labor and religious leaders to honor King. This year it was hosted at Temple Adath Yeshurun.

The Johnson award, created in honor of a former school board member, went to Young Organizers United, which seeks to address ethnic and racial disparities in city schools.

One of the YOU leaders said the Johnson award shines a light on black girls who are doing amazing things in the community.

“What Martin Luther King has taught me is that someone who looks like me – even though I’m the only person who looks like me in the room – is important, worthy and human,” said Charity Kabari, a Central junior.

The group has yet to land a student on the school board, but now students have the ability to address the board at the beginning of meetings and receive a response, said Maxine Mosley, the vice president of the Manchester Education Association, who presented the award.

She noted that critics have called the YOU group rude and disrespectful, but she said YOU members spoke with a voice of passion and anger over their treatment.

“There are times to educate, times to organize and times to agitate,” Mosley said.

The event, put on by the Martin Luther King Jr. Coalition, is one of the largest in the state to honor King. The Martin Luther King Jr. Award went to Dr. Dottie Morris, vice president for diversity at Keene State College.

“We must not build walls around ourselves,” she said. “When we keep walls around ourselves, it closes us to so many blessings.”

The National Cultural Diversity Awareness Council had an event planned later Monday to honor the Greek heritage of the country.

And on Monday morning, a hundred or so current and former members of City Year, the national volunteer project that has sent hundreds of volunteers into Manchester schools, gathered at Hillside Middle School.

“Dr. King taught us that even against great odds, even when the deck is stacked, we can be the change we want to see,” said newly elected Congressman Chris Pappas, D- N.H.

He said increases in hate crimes, reductions in economic opportunities and widening of the opportunity gaps make him worry that the country is backsliding from King’s advocacy for social and economic justice.

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The weather kept turnout down at both locations, with low numbers and empty chairs at both daytime events on Monday.

The Hillside event included workshops that ranged from topics of microaggressions to the causes of poverty. Others were painting a room in the school’s office suite.

Monique Legault, a City Year volunteer at Henry Wilson School, opted for a paint roller rather than a discussion group.

“For me, Martin Luther King Day has always been a physical service project,” Legault said, noting her parents took her on volunteer projects while growing up. “I wanted to keep that alive,” she said.