Otterbein Student Receives Community Honor at MLK Celebration

Posted Jan 18, 2021

Desmond Fernandez, a senior BFA acting major at Otterbein, was honored with the Alston Award at Leadership Westerville’s 16th annual Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration on Jan. 18, 2021. The award recognizes a member of the Westerville community that has embodied and lived out the ideals of Dr. King.  

Fernandez grew up in Westerville and attended Westerville City Schools before enrolling at Otterbein. His activism grew as a student until the summer of 2020, when he stepped up to organize protests and celebrations supporting Black Lives Matter.  

“I’ve been a part of this community for so long — it’s my lifeline for success and happiness,” Fernandez said in an interview for Otterbein Towers magazine. “This is my time to be a part of this mission to better our community and make it even more diverse and more inclusive.” 

Desmond Fernandez '21 addresses the crowd
Desmond Fernandez ’21 addresses the crowd gathered in Alum Creek Park Amphitheatre near Otterbein’s campus.

The first protest he organized was a Black Lives Matter march in Westerville on June 3, 2020. The group marched through Otterbein’s campus and ended with a sit-in with speakers at the courthouse in Uptown Westerville. “What I thought was going to be maybe 50 people was almost 1,000. It was inspiring,” he said.  

The nominator wrote: “A tireless organizer, Desmond has taken on the events and heartbreaks of 2020 as opportunities to both raise awareness that our country and our communities need racial justice — and to achieve that, we need each other, we need to be in community. Desmond was the primary organizer for a number of events that brought us together in the midst of our global pandemic.  His organizing efforts included at least three protests, a Juneteenth celebration, and food distribution events for those in need.” 

The nominator also noted “the love for humanity and joy of life that emanates from him.” 

“Desmond shows us all how to stand in and for racial and social justice while loving our neighbors, even if they don’t value and live the same things we do,” the nominator added.  

Fernandez has advice for anyone who wants to make a difference: ACT NOW.  

“Alice Walker. Rosa Parks. Martin Luther King Jr. Malcolm X. Maya Angelou. John Lewis. Colin Kaepernick. These are absolutely profound people, and they made a huge impact on our American culture. But they’re just humans. You don’t need to give speeches in front of thousands of people or have all the press there to be an advocate. These people were advocates but they’re also activists. Like the first part of that word, you simply need to act. You’ve got to do it and you’ve got to act now,” Fernandez said.  

The Alton Award is named in honor of Miriam Alston and the group of slaves she freed who traveled to the Westerville area in 1859. The recipients of the annual award exemplify the characteristics demonstrated by Dr. King (tolerant, respectful, kind, brave, and tenacious), have respect for the differences in others around them, and take action when they see an injustice.