2016 Martin Luther King, Jr. Awards

The 2016 Martin Luther King Award was presented to some of Asheville’s most valued educators at the Candlelight Service held Monday, January 18 at Nazareth First Baptist Church.

The honorees were:

The late Arthur R. Edington, who served as a principal in the Asheville City School system for 28 years. His strong belief in education as an essential in life convinced him that there was no such thing as a child who could not learn.

The late Helen Edington, a member of the North Carolina Association of Educators, National Education Association, Gamma Gamma Omega Chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha Society, and Kappa Delta Phi Honor Society, and the author of Angels Unaware, Women of Color in the Asheville Area.

Hazel Edwards, whose 35-year career included teaching English and Art in Burnsville, NC, Nashville, TN, and at Enka and T. C. Roberson High Schools in Buncombe County Schools. She developed an art program that included writing the curriculum and teaching classes in K-6, an taught evening classes at Mars Hill College covering world literature, the short story, and the novel.

Charles “Tommy” Koontz, started the first kindergarten class in Buncombe County before serving as teacher and principal at Valley Springs. After moving to T.C. Roberson High School during the turmoil of integration, he hired Buncombe County’s first African American Assistant Principal, Dr. Larry McCallum (also honored).

Dr. Larry McCallum, spent 10 years as a teacher and coach with Asheville City Schools before joining Buncombe County Schools, where he served as teacher and assistant principal at T. C. Roberson High School, principal at Charles D. Owen High School, and Assistant Superintendent of the County School System.

Juanita Mitchiner has been teaching for 30 years, beginning at William Randolph Elementary School. She now teaches second grade at Jones Elementary. She has been named Teacher of the Year on numerous occasions, reflecting her lifelong love for books and helping others learn.

Harriet Ray, certified to teach the gifted and talented, who taught at William Randolph Elementary School and at Ira B. Jones, and taught science and history to the academically gifted at UNCA during summers. She was named Teacher of the Year. She was listed in Who’s Who Among American Teachers for six years and was inducted into the National Teacher’s Honor Society. A member of Beta Lambda Zeta branch of Zeta Phi Beta Sorority Inc., she has served as sorority president as well as in other offices.

Otha (O.L.) Sherrill started his long, illustrious career with Asheville City Schools in 1962. He taught at all-black Stephens-Lee High School, the “Castle on the Hill,”then moved to the new South French Broad High School, where he would become assistant principal. In 1969, when South French Broad and Lee Edwards High Schools merged, he became Assistant Principal and Dean of Boys at the newly named Asheville High School, helping minimize the civil unrest that accompanied desegregation. He then became principal at William Randolph Elementary School, Hall Fletcher Middle School and co-principal at Asheville High before retiring after 27 years with Asheville City Schools. He has received the Buncombe Human Relations Council’s Distinguished Citizen Award and led the NC Teachers Association, the Buncombe County Social Service Board, and the Black Mountain Martin Luther King Breakfast. Dedicated, engaged, and devoted to his community, he has served on the Buncombe County Board of Elections, the NC High School Athletic Association, Swannanoa Medical Center, United Way, Asheville Chamber of Commerce, YMICC, Bank of America, Manna Food Bank, and numerous other organizations. He is also a Golden Life Member in NAACP, a 3rd Degree Mason, 32nd Degree Consistory Shriner, and member of Sigma Pi Phi Fraternity.

Jackie Simms is a retired teacher of the deaf and hard of hearing who worked for a number of years as an itinerant teacher going to homes, daycares and preschools across western North Carolina to provide language/communication instruction and orientation to hearing-loss topics – both as direct service to children and through instruction to adults. She also managed a program that provided early intervention and preschool services for the western region of North Carolina, and during the summers of 2004 and 2005, she and other team members evaluated the written tests of NBPTS candidates for Exceptional Needs Specialist certification. After retirement, Jackie volunteered with Read to Succeed, a program that aims to increase the number of elementary school children who are at grade level in reading by the third grade. She is also founder and president of the Ethical Humanist Society of Asheville, and has been an active participant, co-chair of the steering committee, volunteer, or cofacilitator with Building Bridges since its inception in 1993.

Yetta Williams, a teacher at Hall Fletcher Elementary School in Asheville, also works to build multi-ethnic dialogue through participation in Building Bridges of Asheville and through international connections. She was a member of the delegation of North Carolina teachers who were part of the “Teachers to Singapore & Malaysia” professional development program.


The 35th Annual Prayer Breakfast was held at the Crowne Plaza Resort, Asheville at 8:30 a.m. on January 16, 2016. More than 1,100 residents heard keynote speaker Rodney Johnson, recently retired from George Washington University. More than $15,000 has been raised for the MLK Association’s scholarship program. Two college scholarships have been awarded to high school students whose accomplishments and achievements were deemed worthy of recognition and support by our entire community: Michael Davis and Ulisse Rotolo are both enrolled as freshmen at UNC Asheville.

We welcome nominations for adult and youth awards. Teachers, pastors, youth-group leaders, neighbors, family, co-workers, and friends are among those who can best recognize the outstanding qualities of leadership, compassion, and community-building that will lead to the Beloved Community spoken of by Dr. King. We encourage you to visit the Youth Nominations and Adult Nominations pages to download information and forms for nominating someone you know who is worthy of this recognition.