Inaugural Keeper of the Dream Dinner Celebrates Black History Month

Feb 28, 2024
A photo of the Inaugural Keeper of the Dream dinner. Various tables with people sitting at them face a man speaking at a podium at the front of the room, and he stands in front of a projector screen depicting Martin Luther King Jr.

People and honorees gathered to commemorate Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Last Thursday, Westfield State University celebrated the inaugural Keeper of the Dream dinner in honor of Black History Month. Sponsored by the University, the City of Westfield,  the City of West Springfield and Westfield Bank, the program, attended by around 250 individuals, was held at the Shaker Farms Country Club in Westfield and honored six individuals who have made significant social, academic, and communal contributions to their communities. As part of the  University’s 185th anniversary, the program reflected the late Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and his address from July 1962, where he remarked, “We must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope.”

Honorees Petrina Fondakowski, President of Japolies Inc. and Northside Creamery; Ronald Gibbons, Director of Emergency Management in Westfield; Mustafa Thompson of the Veteran’s Advisory Board of West Springfield; Addison Thompson, a student at West Springfield Middle School; Tania M. Barber, President and CEO of Caring Health Center; and Joan E. Fuller, Retired Director of Urban Education Program of Westfield State University, were all recognized for their many accomplishments that have demonstrated integrity, resilience and  drive, all of which are ideals that align with the spirit and legacy of Dr. King.

President Linda Thompson of Westfield State talking to attendees of last week's Keeper of the Dream dinner. She is wearing a yellow pearl necklace, blue undershot, and dark blue blazer.
President Linda Thompson.

“I would like to thank everyone involved in putting together this event to recognize and commemorate the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr.,” Westfield State President Linda Thompson said. “I am so proud to be here to celebrate these individuals who have devoted a lifetime of practicing and reinforcing the teachings, lessons, and beliefs of Dr. King. These individuals have been instrumental in providing opportunities that advance and grow our communities in an inclusive and equitable way, delivering on Dr. Kings important principles that have benefitted so many of our communities.”

Janine Fondon, a scholar and curator of the Voices of Resilience Exhibit gave the opening remarks, calling for unity and progress among peoples of various backgrounds. “As we gather today, we represent thousands of people along the timeline of history, in honor of history. Our history is shared, and the quicker we learn that we're inextricably linked to each other, the quicker we can move forward."

Following Fondon, Westfield Mayor Michael A. McCabe said, "It's important to recognize where we come from but just as important to recognize where we're going. We're only going there together... we have to get there together."

Mayor Michael McCabe of Westfield conversing with students at last week's Keeper of the Dream dinner. He kneels at a white-clothed table and wears a blue coat jacket, light blue shirt, and maroon-striped tie.
Westfield's Mayor Michael A. McCabe conversing with students.

Honorees Petrina Fondakowski and Ronald Gibbons extended their gratitude for the award, with Fondakowski encouraging people to “keep on chasing their dreams,” while Gibbons described himself as “honored and humbled to be among the first recipients of the Martin Luther King ‘Keeper of the Dream’ award.”

West Springfield Mayor William C. Reichelt  praised the program as the start of a new tradition. “We haven't had an event that has honored Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and it is great to partner with Westfield but also Westfield State. As we know, there's still work to do with diversity, equity, and inclusion."

President Thompson, Mustafa & Addison Thompson, and West Springfield mayor William Reichelt at the Keeper of the Dream dinner. They stand in front of a dark blue backdrop and Mustafa and Addison have awards in their hands as two of the night's honorees.
President Linda Thompson, Mustafa and Addison Thompson, and West Sprinfield's Mayor William Reichelt.

Reichelt then introduced Mustafa and Addison Thompson, West Springfield's honorees. Mustafa Thompson is a retired Major with over 25 years of service in the U.S. Army and former police officer, and is dedicated to community, leadership, and advocacy. His daughter, Addison, is a student at West Springfield Middle School and was recognized for her academic excellence as well as her participation in programs such as the "Discovering Justice Mock Trial Program” which introduces the judicial process to students.

"This award is significant to me for various reasons," Mustafa said. "My mother made sure we understood our individual power but also our strength as a connected community that works together. These are ideas that I have carried forward in my volunteering."

Tania Barber, President and CEO of Caring Health Center in Springfield was honored for her achievements in addressing systemic barriers that minority groups face in society. In her remarks, Barber urged students to take action against injustice. "Let the measure of these challenges be your guide," she said. "Only become comfortable when we are all comfortable. I challenge you to rise and stand for justice, even when it's controversial. Stand for equality. Stand for social change." 

Honorees of this year's Keeper of the Dream dinner. Mustafa Thompson, Addison Thompson, Ronald Gibbons, Petrina Fondakowski, Tania M. Barber, LaToya Wilson and Tyrone Abrahamian stand side by side in front of a blue backdrop with "185th" printed all over it.
Mustafa and Addison Thompson, Ronald Gibbons, Petrina Fondakowski, Tania M. Barber, La-Toya Wilson, and Tyrone Abrahamian.

Westfield State’s La-Toya Wilson and Tyrone Abrahamian accepted Joan Fuller’s award on her behalf. Fuller, retired director of the Urban Education Program was praised for her service and development of the program which championed diversity, equity and inclusion for students of all backgrounds.

Diversity & Inclusion Senior Program Coordinator, Sierra Alexander, closed the event with excerpts from Dr. King, emphasizing the need for progress and hope in our future endeavors. 

"Hope for the tomorrow that we all can bring by having a world that is just, equitable, diverse, and inclusive, by all being keepers of the dream."