The 15th Annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. banquet was held at Melaleuca Global Headquarters on Friday, January 21, 2022. This community event expanded cultural awareness, celebrated Dr. King’s enduring legacy, promoted a message of understanding and respect among all ethnicities, and raised scholarships funds for underprivileged students.
The banquet theme, Let Peace and Unity Take Flight, arose from the remarkable careers of the two keynote speakers. Major Daniel “Fuzz” Walker is the first African American pilot qualified to fly the F-22 stealth fighter plane, heralded as the most advanced, capable fighter jet ever built. A U.S. Air Force Flight Commander and F-22 Raptor Mission Commander, Maj. Walker has spoken around the country about diversity in the Air Force.
Last year, he made national headlines when he voiced concerns from Black pilots over racial disparity in the Air Force, while encouraging it to establish a culture that drives conformity to values that support objective merit.
During this presentation, Maj. Walker encouraged everyone to habitually have conversations, small and large, about what is acceptable and work toward rooting out racism in our communities.
“Each year, we try and get someone that is doing great things in their community and making strides for our country,” said David Snell, president and founder of the Idaho Falls African American Alliance. “We want to highlight those African American pioneers and we bring them to this event.”
The event also featured Michelle Amos, a systems engineer at NASA who has worked on several flagship programs such as the Mars 2020 Rover. She was chair of NASA’s Black Employee Strategy Team. Her final NASA assignment before retiring after 30 years was supporting Deep Space Logistics, analyzing how to provide supplies for astronauts to live and work on the Moon. This is part of NASA’s Artemis program, which will send the next man and the first woman to the Moon in 2024.
“As we discover, explore and innovate, we will create peace on earth,” Amos said. “Although countries may be at war, we have peace when we do space exploration. We work together with all people throughout the world for these types of things.”
While the banquet was held in person at Melaleuca headquarters, the event was simultaneously streamed for those who wanted to virtually attend. This was the first time that the nonprofit has conducted a hybrid event, and Melaleuca’s audio/visual staff directed the online production to provide a quality virtual experience for all.
“Melaleuca has been a great partner to our organization and helped us uphold our mission in the community,” Snell said. “They’ve donated to us over the years and sponsored our events like this one. Adding in a virtual component was a new element for us, and I’ve got to complement Melaleuca for making it happen. I am thankful for the great relationship we have with Melaleuca.”
Over the past 15 years, presenters have included Dr. Walter Massey, past president of Morehouse College; Peter Miller, former Undersecretary of Energy; Freeman Hrabowski, voted one of TIME magazine’s 100 most influential people; Eric Love, director of staff diversity and inclusion for the University of Notre Dame; and J.C. Watts, chairman of the Black News Network.
The Idaho Falls African American Alliance is committed to initiating dialogue and providing resources that contribute to the educational and cultural growth and development of our community and to improve understanding among all races. The group has promoted and supported the educational and academic excellence of African American youth by awarding scholarships to graduating high school students. It also provides assistance through tutoring programs, after-school activities and mentoring in the areas of career growth and development.