Unity Celebration Award Nominations

MTSU announces 2022 Unity Luncheon Honorees

Middle Tennessee State University will honor five Middle Tennessee “unsung heroes” who’ve served their communities faithfully during the upcoming 26th annual Unity Luncheon on the Blue Raider campus.

A traditional part of the university’s Black History Month events, the event returns this year to its traditional luncheon format on campus and is set for 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 10, in the MTSU Student Union Ballroom, Second Floor, 1768 MTSU Blvd. Last year’s celebration was held virtually because of the pandemic.

Keeping its familiar theme of “Where There Is Unity, There Is Strength,” the luncheon will feature keynote speaker Sekou Franklin, Ph.D., MTSU professor of political science and international relations and currently president of the National Conference of Black Political Scientists. A published scholar and author, Franklin’s latest book, “Losing Power: African Americans and Racial Polarization in Tennessee Politics,” was co-authored with Ray Block, Ph.D., associate professor of political science and African American studies at Penn State University. Franklin is also the author of “After the Rebellion: Black Youth, Social Movement Activism, and the Post-Civil Rights Generation” and edited the “State of Blacks in Middle Tennessee.”

This year’s Unity Luncheon honorees and their categories of recognition include:

  • Education: Elma McKnight, retired educator, Murfreesboro City Schools
  • Excellence in Sports: Thomas Keith, MTSU alumnus, longtime volunteer track and field coach
  • Advocate of Civility: Carl E. Watkins, retired Murfreesboro police captain, youth volunteer
  • Community Service: Melbra Simmons, media office coordinator, True Blue TV, and committee member, Tennessee Girls in STEM Conference
  • Commitment to Black Arts: Robert Orr Jr., Murfreesboro artist

The Unity celebration is a tradition that has been around since 1996 to honor “unsung heroes” across the Midstate age 60 or older who have lived in the area for two decades or more and have made outstanding contributions to their community. Almost 130 residents have been recognition since its inception.

Nominations must only be submitted in one category. If you have questions regarding the appropriate category for your nomination, please feel free to call 615-898-5812.

Category Details


This award recognizes an outstanding educator who has shown remarkable dedication and excellence to students and fellow educators. He/she are active in the community. 

Community Service

This award recognizes a person who has demonstrated an unparalleled commitment to public service. He/she has dedicated time and energy to community service endeavors that have made positive contributions to individuals and/or organizations.

Advocate of Civility

This award recognizes a person who have taken meaningful steps to promote a more civil public discourse and who epitomize the highest professional standards of civility.

Excellence in Sports 

This award recognizes a person or team regardless of gender of sport that made a significant, groundbreaking contribution in the realm of activities that transcendent during that era.

Contribution to Black Arts

This award recognizes a person who has excelled in the area(s) of music, dance, theatre and/or visual arts. This award is ideal for someone who has pronounced dedication to the arts and has freely shared their talent to enhance the Black Community or represent the community in a positive way.