Each year the governor's "Living the Dream" award is presented to those who have demonstrated principals or ideals espoused by the late civil rights leader who became a legendary icon in his pursuit of social change,a press release from the goveror’s office said. Civil rights, scholarship, volunteerism and peace advocacy are among the traits honored by the award.
Joan T. Hairston is a native of Logan County and directed the American Friends Service Committee's New Empowerment for Women Plus program in Logan for three decades. She is one of two winners of the “Living the Dream” award tomorrow at 11:30 a.m. at the State Culture Center on the Capitol Campus in Charleston.
Hairston’s program reportedly featured the first coal mining class for women as well as a job listing for women and minorities to make them aware of opportunities to compete for them.
Hairston helped organize the Logan County Improvement League, a group of African American professionals and business owners to address issues of equality and racism. The League helped sponsor an annual Black History Program including a free dinner for the public and spearheaded a drive for a public library which still has an interracial board of directors.
Hairston was involved in racial justice movements such as showing support for Mary Reynolds, an innocent bystander who was allegedly injured by a deputy sheriff during a drug raid in her neighborhood.
"Mrs. Hairston was there for me," Reynolds said. "When I was in the hospital and couldn't do anything for myself, she as there, getting me a lawyer and doing things I couldn't do for myself."
Nearly two decades later Hairston was involved in the Megan Williams case, after Williams was rescued following the brutal assault of the young woman at the hands of a group of repeat criminal offenders. Hairston fashioned a local response including an interracial prayer service in the rural community where the incident occurred.
Hairston was also involved in less dramatic issues involving allegations of job discrimination or unfair treatment of children in the school system and the vandilization of cemeteries.
Hairston is best known for her mentoring group, showing help and support to young female African American high school students, and acted as a role model and example for them. Hairston took a personal role, often assisting them in educational or personal difficulties they faced. She took the young ladies on field trips to colleges and helped them prepare and succeed in their continuing educational goals. She also encouraged them to preserve their history and culture through projects such as the photo book "Welcome to my World" and oral history projects.
Not one participant dropped out of high school and when personal crisis caused some to contemplate it Hairston assisted them in getting back into school. The program had an 80 percent success rate in terms of young women who went on to attend college with one student graduating Magna Cum Laude from the prestigious Spelman College in Atlanta. All of the young women under her guidance learned to respect themselves and believe they could make a difference in their lives and their communities. The mentoring project will continue to make a better future through their efforts.
Hairston and several other recipients will be recognized at the Martin Luther King Jr. Awards Luncheon on Jan. 16, 2010, at 11:30 a.m. at the Great Hall of the State Culture Center.