McKendree 2020 MLK Humanitarian Award Honorees Lead by Example

(LEBANON, Ill., January 27, 2020) — A senior accounting major and a sociology professor, chosen for their leadership and commitment to social justice, each received McKendree University’s Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Humanitarian Award for 2020. Presented annually to a student and a faculty or staff member, it celebrates the spirit and legacy of the Reverend Dr. King. Recipients demonstrate care and compassion, understanding and tolerance, humanitarian principles and ideals, and participation in service programs.

Brianca Spells, a fifth-year senior from Chicago, Ill., is an accounting major with double minors in management and organizational communication. “I aspire to inspire,” says the campus leader who has served as president of the Black Student Organization; chaplain and parliamentarian of the ELITE chapter of the National Association of Colored Women’s Club; a manager for the Bearcats women’s basketball team; and a member of the New Student Orientation and First-Year Orientation staff.

Dr. Melissa Barfield, of Belleville, Ill., is an associate professor of sociology who has taught at McKendree since 2006. Her teaching interests are in rural sociology, poverty and social welfare. Deeply committed to social justice and activism, she is a mentor and a passionate advocate for students regardless of gender, race or sexual orientation. She serves on the university’s Social Justice Committee and assists in Safe Zone training to promote an inclusive campus environment. In the community, she chairs a regional CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates) board dealing with foster care. Barfield received a bachelor’s degree from Northeast Missouri State University and her master’s and doctoral degrees in sociology from Mississippi State University.

The Humanitarian Awards were presented on Jan. 24 at an MLK celebration service at the Hettenhausen Center for the Arts on campus. Dr. Ernest Gibson III, associate professor of English and co-director of Africana Studies at Auburn University, gave the keynote speech, “Intimate Witness: James Baldwin and the Re-Visioning of Salvation.” His recent book, “Salvific Manhood,” traces the ways in which the novelist, playwright and activist Baldwin explored the varied relationships between male intimacy, vulnerability and salvation in his creative work and offered new insights about Black manhood and vulnerability. 


Dr. Melissa Barfield and Brianca Spells received the  McKendree University 2020 MLK Humanitarian Award on Jan. 24.

Dr. Melissa Barfield and Brianca Spells received the McKendree University 2020 MLK Humanitarian Award on Jan. 24.