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MLK Breakfast 2021 – Ruby Payne Cook & Essence of Humanity Awardees

The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Breakfast, a fundraising event for the Crispus Attucks Community Center, enjoys a long tradition in Lancaster County. Each year 700+ community leaders gather to honor Dr. King’s legacy through performances, community awards and a keynote speech. This year, due to COVID-19, the breakfast will look quite different.

The 33rd annual event will be held Monday, Jan. 18, from 9-10 a.m. in a live, virtual format. 

This year’s theme – Where Do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community? – takes its name from Dr. King’s final book and will feature a keynote by Heather McGhee.

Ron Ford is this year’s honorary event chair. Ford was the first African American elected to Lancaster City Council, the first African American elected President of Lancaster City Council, and the first and only African American elected as a Lancaster County Commissioner to date.

“It’s important to celebrate because it’s a reminder that we’re required to do something, so what we really need to be paying attention to while this is a day that we bring honor to his work,” said Vanessa Philbert, CEO of Community Action Partnership.

The Crispus Attucks Community Center, a program of the Community Action Partnership, is excited to announce the individuals will be honored with community awards at the 2021 Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Breakfast.


The Essence of Humanity Award is intended to recognize those individuals who – beyond the requirements of their work – demonstrate remarkable courage, love, strength, determination, encouragement, inspiration, and persistence when dealing with adversity, and to recognize those who demonstrate the spirit of caring and provide inspiration to such individuals on a daily basis. This award is made possible by the High Foundation.


Kyonna Bowman believes that it’s important to lift others as we climb. As the Executive Director of The Mix at Arbor Place, she stewards opportunities for youth in our community and helps people overcome obstacles, something she keenly understands. Kyonna became a mother at 16, which she credits with teaching her many life and leadership experiences. “Although it was one of the hardest experiences that I had to navigate through, it taught me things about myself that I don’t think I would have learned otherwise” – including bravery, resiliency, courage and the ability to truly care for others. “It also showed me that we can turn our own adversity into the power of owning our future,” Kyonna says.

In nominating Kyonna for this prestigious award, Josh Hunter wrote: “Kyonna played a very influential role in my life while I was under her leadership during my time as a summer counselor at Crispus Attucks Community Center. I was pushed to walk in excellence by finding my passion, and Kyonna helped shaped what that looked like by making us pay attention to detail, operating in timeliness, accomplishing goals and bringing them to completion, and taking ownership of results. She has embodied what leadership is by holding herself accountable first.”

Kyonna’s personal values include faith, family, purpose, and perseverance, and she hopes to leave a legacy of loving and leading well. “I hope to invest my life in such a way that the people behind me are better and closer to God because I was there,” she says.


Rachel Farmer is on the front lines of the coronavirus pandemic. As the Unit Clerk in the Trauma Neurosurgical Unit at Penn Medicine Lancaster General Health, Rachel says she discovers God in each of the stories she hears. Rachel was born in Brooklyn, NY, and came to Lancaster in 1979. The daughter of a single mother – who Rachel credits as her role model – she grew up poor, remembering some nights when dinner would be biscuits with syrup, a few beans, and strawberry Nestle Quik. Of her mother, who is the daughter of sharecroppers from rural Alabama, Rachel says, “She has lived in obscurity most of her life. She never became famous or rich. But she strived to always do the right thing. To be kind, to help those in need, to sing to the glory of her God, and to protect her girls from all of the evils of this world.”

A former Ms. Crispus Attucks pageant participant, Rachel participated in fundraising concerts for Crispus Attucks in 2019, where she lent her beautiful singing voice to the cause. She recently earned her Master’s in Divinity from Lancaster Theological Seminary.

In her nomination, Alisa Bair wrote of Rachel, “She loves deeply and prays passionately. Her very life is a gift to others, even as she struggles to stay healthy, make a living, and find time to be true to her calling to sing, perform and preach. She lets you see it all – the struggles, the overcoming, the love, the gratitude, the persistence, and her childlike joy of living.”


Ruby M. Payne Cook served for nearly 30 years as the first Executive Director of Crispus Attucks Community Center. This award was established in memory of her commitment and dedication to the Center and the African American community. It is given annually to those who have dedicated their time and energy to serving the Center and the surrounding community. 


Dr. King said, “life’s most persistent and urgent question is, what are you doing for others?” Some days the work is heavy and exhausting, and still Patricia Short shows up three days a week ready to serve others. Patricia is receiving this award because of her commitment not only to the center but also to the community. Patricia’s days aren’t over when she leaves the center; she is often caring for others by delivering meals, supplies and lending a helping hand or listening ear to those in need. Even in the midst of her own storms, she consistently shows up, putting others needs before her own. She brings wisdom, makes our guests feel loved, and encourages and inspires others to simply show up. You can always hear her asking, “What do you need?” It is these selfless acts that remind us of how much we can do together.


Walking into the Food Bank at Crispus Attucks, you’ve likely been blessed with the humor and warm smile of Viola Thomas. Dr. King said, “To serve, you only need a heart full of grace and a soul generated by love.” For nearly six years, Viola has welcomed more than 21,000 customers to the Food Bank where her heart of gold and her love has been extended every time she registers a guest to enter the center food market. When Thomas is not registering and greeting guests at the registration table, she is helping place fresh fruit out on the tables or in boxes, touching more than 10,000 pounds of food each week and ensuring that every family receives a complete box. The work has been heavy, especially now as the Food Bank has seen a significant increase in numbers, but Viola remains patient, kind and gentle with everyone who walks through the doors, even when reminding guests “Masks up, 6ft please.”

These are the hands that make this work possible, and we are forever grateful.


In 1982, one J.P. McCaskey High School graduating senior who had also attended Martin Luther King Jr. Elementary School was awarded a $500 postsecondary educational scholarship. It was the first and only award presented that year by King Elementary teachers; they had just begun to operate and fund a scholarship program for their former students at the urging of Principal Ray Smith.

What launched in 1982 expanded into a robust community-fueled organization that, in 2020, awarded scholarships totaling $175,000 to 29 seniors from throughout the School District of Lancaster. The tradition continues in 2021, the 40th year the community scholarship program will invest in the future of the city’s graduating high schoolers. Overall, the enduring commitment of volunteer organizers, supporters and donors has generated nearly $1 million in scholarship money for 411 McCaskey seniors since 1982.

The organization is about “empowering students to fulfill (King’s) dream,’’ according to the website, It provides scholarships for McCaskey graduating seniors “who have been accepted to an accredited higher education program and have demonstrated financial need” and who “reflect Dr. King’s ideals of commitment to school, community, family, and faith.” Applications for 2021 scholarships are available at today through April 9.

We invite you to join us in helping to foster a vibrant, diverse, and prosperous community, rich with cultural heritage and educational opportunities, by making a gift to Crispus Attucks Community Center.

Your gift will help CACC improve the quality of life for youth and families in Lancaster by providing services that promote community prosperity and physical and mental health, and by offering programs and cultural events which preserve the African American heritage. Click here to donate.

About Crispus Attucks Community Center

Since 1927, the Crispus Attucks Community Center has been an anchor in Southeast Lancaster City. The organization has a proud history of providing educational and cultural programs to celebrate African American heritage, serving meals to individuals in need, and focusing on youth education and leadership development.  Crispus Attucks takes immense pride in its mission to improve the quality of life for youth and families in Lancaster by providing services that promote community prosperity, physical and mental health, and by offering programs and cultural events which preserve the African American heritage.

About the Community Action Partnership (CAP) of Lancaster County 

The Community Action Partnership is Lancaster County’s largest anti-poverty organization, helping low income families move toward self-sufficiency. CAP’s service profile interrupts inter-generational poverty with programs that support families and individuals at every age and place in life, in the areas of education and child development, health and nutrition, household stability and safety and empowerment. For more information, visit