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Romain keynote speaker for MLK awards event

By Luanne Williams

Toussaint Romain, the former public defender named Charlottean of the Year for his efforts to make peace between protestors and police at the 2016 riots, will address Wingate University students Jan. 21 during the annual Martin Luther King Jr. Award Recognition Ceremony.

The virtual event, set for 6 p.m. via Zoom, will also recognize student Rania Badran, staff member Demetria Smith and faculty members Dawn Norwood and Kim Nealy for upholding Dr. King’s legacy through their work on campus. This is the second year for the MLK Awards.

Rania Badran

A junior biology major, Badran is president of the Muslim Students Association and has helped bring guest speakers to campus to shed light on the Israel/Palestine conflict and other issues. She has pushed for an interfaith space on campus and joined the Collaborative for the Common Good as a cultural leadership intern to help implement more diversity training and hold conversations with faculty, staff and students to create a more inclusive campus.  

Demetria Smith

Smith is a student success counselor for the School of Pharmacy, a Gateway mentor and an advisor for the Tau Chi chapter of Sigma Gamma Rho Sorority. An advocate and ally for minority students, she helped start a diversity task force in the School of Pharmacy and delivered a faculty development workshop on bias. Co-workers say Smith makes students from all backgrounds feel welcome and motivates them to be the most authentic versions of themselves they can be.

Dawn Norwood

Norwood, assistant dean of the School of Sport Sciences and director of the Master of Arts in Sport Management program, has worked with the Dismantling Racism Task Force to promote University-wide diversity, equity and inclusion efforts. Within the School of Sport Sciences, she has led the initiative to increase DEI awareness and to integrate cultural competencies into curriculum, instruction, organizational and internal planning and advising.

Kim Nealy

Nealy, an associate professor of pharmacy, will receive the Diversity & Inclusion Special Recognition Award. In her role as leader of the School of Pharmacy’s Strategic Planning Committee, she has helped ensure that diversity is a core value. Nealy helped with the development of a DEI workgroup to develop modules and teach them to students as part of their co-curriculum, and has helped coordinate faculty development sessions on the topic of racism in healthcare.

Romain serves as deputy general counsel at Appalachian State University in Boone. This will be his second time as a featured Wingate speaker. In February 2017, he was part of a five-person Civil Discourse panel that tackled the issue of how to turn mean-spirited divisiveness into meaningful dialogue. The event was held just a few months after peaceful protests turned violent in the wake of the death of Keith Lamont Scott, a 43-year-old Black man fatally shot by a Charlotte police officer.

Toussaint Romain during 2016 protests in Uptown Charlotte.

When tensions heightened in Uptown, Romain came from his office still wearing his dress shirt and tie to step between protestors and police. Photos of him trying to de-escalate tensions drew media attention and led to requests for him to run for mayor.

When asked why he stepped in, Romain told CNN: “We don’t need any more people to go to die, no more people to be arrested. We need to take a stand and do it the right way. People are hurting, man. People are upset. People are frustrated. People need leaders. I’m not trying to be that leader. I’m trying to prevent people from being hurt.”

For more than a decade, Romain provided legal representation to indigent clients charged with everything from drug offenses to robbery and murder. He also taught classes in constitutional law and mass incarceration at his alma mater, UNC Charlotte, for nine years and has addressed crowds on leadership, systemic racism and sexism as well as criminal justice reform.

Prior to earning his juris doctor in 2007 from Regent University School of Law, Toussaint worked for federal prosecutors, federal and state judges, the National Institute of Justice and U.S. Senator John Edwards. 

In addition to being recognized as Charlottean of the Year by Charlotte Magazine, Romain also received the Foundation for the Carolinas’ 2017 Nish Jamgotch Jr. Humanitarian Award.

His keynote address and the rest of the MLK Celebration will be hosted by the Unity House Multicultural Center. Located in the former Watson House on North Main Street, the new center coordinates programs to foster dialogue that addresses diversity and equity. Unity House also serves as a haven for underrepresented students, a place for them to get cultural and personal support and to develop leadership skills.

To attend the event, log into this Zoom link.

For more details, email Antonio Jefferson, the University’s director of Lyceum and Multicultural Programming.

Jan. 13, 2021