Two local pastors to be honored by Ohio Martin Luther King Jr. Holiday Commission

By Nick Shook
Beacon Journal staff writer
Read full story on Ohio.com

Two community leaders in Summit County will be honored for their efforts to improve race relations.

Although 2015 was a tumultuous year for race relations locally and nationally, the Rev. Mark Ford and the Rev. Joe Coffey did not waver, and the Ohio Martin Luther King Jr. Holiday Commission took notice, choosing Ford and Coffey as recipients of two of its eight annual awards.

Ford was nominated for the Community Building Award by Fannie Brown, a member of the commission and former executive director of the Coming Together Project.

“He has been a force for community building all of his life,” Brown wrote about Ford on the nomination form.

The nomination was a surprise to Ford, who says it isn’t his style to pay attention to accolades.

“I don’t consider myself a person that gets awards ­— I just do what I do,” Ford said. “… I was really humbled that Dr. Brown would look at me in that dimension. I don’t know how many were nominated, but to be recognized by the state is truly humbling and honoring.”

Ford, the executive director of the Love Akron Network, has had a hand in various events and movements promoting racial harmony in the last year, including a men’s diversity retreat and collaboration on the Ohio Civility Project. He also helped draft a statement urging peaceful protest in response to last May’s acquittal of Cleveland patrolman Michael Brelo, who was charged with two counts of voluntary manslaughter for firing the final 15 rounds of a 137-shot barrage that killed two unarmed, black people.

Ford joined sponsors to allow Akron students to screen the historical film Selmaand also teamed with Bishop F. Josephus Johnson II of the House of the Lord to lead an outgrowth of Imagine Unity to figure out ways to bring hope and healing to the general community in Greater Akron.

“We are all part of the same human family, and we’re all part of the same national family as Americans,” Ford said. “We must treat each other with dignity simply because of the mark of God’s image on everyone. That alone demands dignity.”

Ford hopes to one day help bring a summit on race to Akron.

Bringing about change

Brown also nominated Coffey for a Social Justice Award, which recognizes those who “have made significant contributions to achieving justice for individuals or communities.”

Coffey serves as the lead pastor at the Christ Community Chapel, which has campuses in Hudson, Aurora, Stow and the Highland Square neighborhood of Akron. Among its commitments is to encourage diversity, which Coffey advanced by introducing racial reconciliation events. These events, called Talking For a Change, caught the attention of Brown.

“We ended up having an event at our church to talk about the different perspectives of blacks and whites as they look at police and the whole deal, just to try to understand each other,” Coffey said. “… The interest [in the Talking For a Change events] is great.

“We had probably 500 that came to Talking for a Change in the midst of the biggest conflict, when the riots were going on in St. Louis. People want to know and people want to experience the healing and do what they can to bring about healing racially in our congregation, so it’s good.”

Under Coffey’s leadership, his congregation was also exposed to ministries focusing on justice and mercy, to which they offered services and donated about $3.5 million over the last 3½ years.

The commission was established by executive order in 1985 and serves as a statewide advocate of King’s principles of nonviolence. It will present awards in eight categories during the 31st annual Commemorative Celebration at noon Thursday at Trinity Episcopal Church in Columbus.

Nick Shook can be reached at 330-996-3854 or nshook@thebeaconjournal.com.

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