FACEBOOK/GEORGETOWN UNIVERSITY Grammy-winning singer Vanessa Williams performed at the “Let Freedom Ring!” ceremony co-hosted by Georgetown University and the Kennedy Center on Monday evening.

John Thompson Jr., Georgetown University’s men’s basketball coach from 1972 through 1999, was known for his commitment to helping his students. He symbolized his investment in his players with a deflated basketball placed prominently on his desk that reminded players their lives were not measured solely by their performance on the basketball court.

Thompson’s spirit was on display Monday evening at the annual “Let Freedom Ring!” event at the Kennedy Center. The program honors the life and legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. by awarding an individual with the John Thompson Jr. Legacy of a Dream Award based on the recipient’s commitment to service in the community.

Georgetown presented the 16th annual Legacy of a Dream Award to Steve Park, the executive director and founder of Little Lights Urban Ministries. This organization works with families living in public housing communities in the Washington, D.C. area by providing familial, economic and spiritual support.

“There’s a part of D.C. that is often ignored, and what Little Lights tries to do is go into these public housing communities like Potomac Gardens, Hopkins and Benning Terrace, and to do it long term,” Park said in the video tribute at the program.

The event was hosted jointly by Georgetown University and the Kennedy Center and included a speech by University President John J. DeGioia and video tributes to Park, Thompson and King.

In a speech, DeGioia quoted a segment from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s speech from the day before he died, echoing, as Park has done, the importance of helping others and taking action to spark change in the D.C. community.

“Let us rise up tonight with a greater readiness. Let us stand with a greater determination. And let us move on in these powerful days, these days of challenge, to make America what it ought to be,” DeGioia said, quoting King. “We have an opportunity to make America a better nation.”

The event also featured musical performances by Grammy-winning and Tony-nominated performer Vanessa Williams, the Let Freedom Ring Choir led by the musical director Reverend Nolan Williams, Georgetown’s Jazz Ensemble and members of the department of performing arts.

Since its inception as an after-school program in Park’s parents’ Tae Kwon Do studio in 1995, Little Lights has served over 900 children and families in public housing communities in Southeast D.C. — communities where many families live on less than $12,000 a year. The program has also expanded into six different sites.

Today, in addition to after-school tutoring for students, Little Lights offers summer camp programs and Christian mentoring. The organization also supports families by hosting economic empowerment events for adults, including job training and Friday night dinners with worship.

Little Lights is committed to providing support for children and adults who otherwise might not have a strong network, Crystal Jenkins, a program coordinator for Little Lights, said in the video at the program.

“A lot of kids don’t have anyone to help them with homework when they get home,” Jenkins said, “But when they come to Little Lights, it’s a place for them to come and get love.”

Anthony Minter, a Little Lights board member and minister at the First Rock Baptist Church in D.C., said that Little Lights is committed to making long-term impacts on individuals in these communities.

“It’s one of the greatest challenges that we need to figure out: How do we improve the whole living situation for those who are in some challenging lifestyles?” Minter said. “How do we help to raise them up without pushing them out?”

In keeping with its commitment to developing permanent solutions for local community members, Little Lights attempts to hire from within these communities and offers job training for adults.

Park’s obvious passion for helping others also stands out to colleagues.

“There’s not a lot of words to describe [Park], because I’ve never met anyone like this guy,” Jenkins said.

Minter echoed Jenkins’ comments.

“The work that [Park] is doing, I just believe is monumental. He has a heart for people, certainly for the kids, but not just for the kids, I think just for people,” Minter said.

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