Civil rights champion Jerry Lottie receives Martin Luther King Jr. Legacy Award at Muskegon Community College’s ‘Unity Breakfast’

Jerry Lottie is given a standing ovation by the crowd at Muskegon Community College’s Unity Breakfast. Photo by Peter Koryzno/MCC

Jerry Lottie, a man who has championed civil rights and social justice for half a century, last Friday received the Martin Luther King Jr. Legacy Award at Muskegon Community College’s “Unity Breakfast,” an achievement that brought the crowd to its feet in thunderous applause for a man who has shattered ceilings of inequality, touched countless lives and paved the way for a more just future.

“Jerry Lottie has worked for equal rights for 50 years,” City of Muskegon Equal Employment Opportunity and Employee Relations Director Dwana Thompson said while presenting the award at the 24th annual breakfast. “He retired from the City of Muskegon, where he was employed for 27 years, as the very first Affirmative Action Director in 1997. Mr. Lottie’s service in this community has made an indelible impact on what today we are able to call community, through the organizations that he has become affiliated with over the years.”

Given annually at the college’s Unity Breakfast, the Martin Luther King Jr. Legacy Award is bestowed in appreciation of those who demonstrate justice and serve the Muskegon community. Each year, the breakfast celebrates the memory of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and seeks to build understanding in the community.

“I am so surprised,” a visibly moved Lottie told the sold-out crowd at the breakfast. “This community is my community. I will serve it until I pass away.”

As Thompson read the names of the various places and organizations Lottie has worked for and served, she asked individuals at the breakfast affiliated with these spaces to stand in recognition of the impact Lottie has had on Muskegon. By the time Thompson finished her list—a lengthy roster that included the City of Muskegon, Sealed Power, the Muskegon Heights City Council, the Mercy Hospital Board, the Muskegon Housing Commission, the Fair Housing Commission, the NAACP, the Community Foundation for Muskegon County Board, Church of the Living God, and more—nearly the entire room was on its feet. As the crowd looked to Lottie, many wiped tears from their faces as they considered the deep legacy one man has left on this world.

Jerry Lottie and Dwana Thompson. Photo by Peter Koryzno/MCC

“I asked his daughter, Trynette, what most impresses her about her father, and she said that, ‘He shares what he knows to help people in our community live their best life,’” Thompson told the crowd, referring to Trynette Lottie Harps, Muskegon Community College’s Dean of Community Outreach.

After growing up in Dansby, Arkansas, Lottie moved to Michigan in the late 1950s and went on to receive his higher education from Grand Valley State University and Michigan State University. Currently a City of Muskegon resident, Lottie and his wife, Flordia—with whom he’ll celebrate 63 years of marriage this July—previously resided in Muskegon Heights and he served on the Muskegon Heights City Council in the late 1960s to early 1970s. Together, the Lotties raised two daughters, Trynette and Faye, in the community and now have three grandchildren and one great-grandson.

Following his employment at Sealed Power, Lottie went on to the City of Muskegon—where he was “instrumental in developing an equal opportunity employment policy objective” that stipulated that the “city would employ minorities in percentages equal to the city’s minority population,” Thompson said. While at the city, he too established the Equal Employment Opportunity Committee.

Thanks to his work at the city and on numerous boards, he has received many an award from various organizations—including a Humanitarian Award from the NAACP and a Community Leader Award from Queens Esther Baptist Church. And it’s not just awards he’s landing years after his retirement; Lottie remains deeply involved in his community. He currently serves as chairman of the board for the Muskegon Federal Governmental Credit Union and is a trustee at Christian Fellowship and Outreach, Church of the Living God, where he is a member of the Tuesday morning Bible Study and sings in the male chorus and choir. 

And, as has been the case for decades upon decades, Lottie continues to be “known for mentoring young people and being a godfather to many,” Thompson said.

All of this, of course, only begins to tell the story of Lottie’s impact on Muskegon. How do you begin to explain what 50 years of work means in a community—half a century of fighting for justice, of changing a tide so that it no longer washes over people, but instead lifts them?

Perhaps you begin to explain it with a day like Friday, when a crowd of people sprung to their feet, wiped tears from their eyes, and erupted into applause for a man who, in response, very humbly said: I will continue to serve.

Story by Anna Gustafson, the publisher and editor of Muskegon Times. Connect with Anna by emailing MuskegonTimes@gmail.com or on FacebookTwitter and Instagram.

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