Dr. Gary P. Zola, Executive Director of the Jacob Rader Marcus Center of the American Jewish Archives and Professor of the American Jewish Experience at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, was awarded the 2012 King Legacy Award on Monday, January 16, 2012. The award — presented annually by the Martin Luther King, Jr. Coalition and the Freedom Center— is given to persons whose lives reflect the characteristics and attributes of Martin Luther King Jr. and to those who have made significant and tangible contributions in the areas of race relations, justice, and human rights.
The honor was bestowed during the King Legacy Awards Breakfast at the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center which was co-chaired by Homa Yavar, of The Martin Luther King, Jr. Coalition of Greater Cincinnati and Verneida Britton volunteer, of the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center. Courtis Fuller of WLWT News 5 served as master of ceremonies.
The King Legacy Awards Breakfast, honored three community and three youth leaders who embody the spirit of King and endeavor to keep his legacy alive. Guests were welcomed by NURFC President and CEO Kim Robinson; and Edith Thrower, President of the Martin Luther King Jr. Coalition of Greater Cincinnati.
"This award recognizes the many years of civil and human rights leadership that Dr. Zola has provided our community," noted Kim Robinson, President & CEO of the Freedom Center. " Dr. Zola has been a true champion of freedom for all people. His life exemplifies the dream of Dr. King that everyone should be judged by the 'content of their character and not by the color of their skin'."
Following the breakfast, Dr. Zola and several community organizers led the annual MLK Coalition March beginning at the Freedom Center’s Harriet Tubman Theater . Marchers proceeded to Fountain Square for an interfaith prayer service with local religious leaders. The March then continued to Music Hall for the Annual MLK Day Program which focused the 50th anniversary of the Freedom Riders.
Dr. Zola is a past president of the Cincinnati Chapter of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Coalition and has been a frequent speaker on issues of faith and freedom at the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center.
"Dr. Zola is an inspiration and a role model for living out Dr. King's legacy," said Shakila Ahmad of the Isamic Center of Greater Cincinnati. "He has been a dear friend to the Muslim community—and a staunch advocate for interfaith relations and community understanding across our region."
"Rabbi Gary Zola epitomizes the very DNA of Doctor King and richly deserves this award," added Rev. Damon Lynch, Jr., Pastor of the New Jerusalem Baptist Church. " He has done much for the cause of human rights and justice."
Zola serves on the Advisory Council of the American Jewish Committee Cincinnati Chapter; and on the Board of Directors of Cincinnati's Jewish Community Relations Council. In 2OO4, Zola served as the Chair of the national Commission for Commemorating the 350th Anniversary of American Jewish History, which was organized to help our nation mark the 35Oth anniversary of Jewish communal life in North America (1654-2OO4). Zola also served on the Academic Advisory Council of the national Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Commission, and is a past president of the Greater Cincinnati Board of Rabbis. Last Spring, President Obama appointed Dr. Zola to the Commission for the Preservation of America's Heritage Abroad.
"This honor pays just tribute to the prominent role that Dr. Zola plays in fostering a community of tolerance and care for all in Cincinnati," said Rabbi David Ellenson, President of Hebrew-Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion. "His work at the American Jewish Archives and the programs he has fostered there as well as the many good deeds he performs in the greater Cincinnati community fulfill the goals of achieving mutual care and respect among all citizens of every race and creed that are the hallmarks of the legacy Dr. King bequeathed the entire world."