The Unsung Hero awards are given to community members, students, faculty and staff who have made positive impacts on the lives of others but are not widely recognized for their contributions. The awards were created to honor Dr. King’s vision of creating positive change in a troubled world.
The award winners will be recognized at the 36th annual Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration. The event will be held online on Sunday, Jan. 31, at 7 p.m. featuring keynote speaker Ruby Bridges. Registration for the celebration is open to all and available on the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration website.
This year’s Unsung Hero recipients are:
Heard is the founder of BREKY clothing, a ground-breaking graphic designer, and a dynamic advocate for programs serving children with disabilities.
She earned an associate degree in business from Morrisville College in 2019 and is the first person in her family to graduate from college. She is currently working on a B.F.A in graphic and fine arts at SUNY Oswego. In addition to her academic pursuits, Heard launched her clothing line BREKY (Being Real Extraordinary Kool Youth) in 2015 and partnered with Upstate Golisano Children’s Hospital to create an adaptive program for children with disabilities in 2018.
Heard’s passion to help others is influenced by her own experiences with a disability. Her personal experiences with cerebral palsy have driven her to advocate for inclusivity on behalf of others. Her work with Upstate Golisano Children’s Hospital led to six children of differing abilities being able to participate in week-long winter adaptive sports activities in venues across Onondaga County.
“Her life, career and commitment to adaptive sports are a testament to what one can achieve amidst adversity. In a world that was not designed to foster her success, as a result of racism, patriarchy, homophobia and ableism, Bobbie persisted,” says Kishi Animashaun Ducre, associate dean of diversity, equity and inclusion and associate professor of African American Studies in the College of Arts and Sciences.
Heard has been able to achieve her dream of becoming part of the fashion industry and inspires others with her success.
Dr. Frederick C. Gilbeaux
Gilbeaux has been a practicing dentist for more than 30 years. Through his dentistry practice, located in Jamesville, New York, he serves those in need in many ways; and in the community he has an active role in countless service organizations.
Gilbeaux earned his bachelor’s degree at the University of North Texas in 1981 and continued his education at Meharry Medical College School of Dentistry, graduating with a doctor of dental surgery degree in 1987. He opened his practice in Jamesville in 1998. Gilbeaux has helped support underserved communities in Texas, Central Pennsylvania and New York by providing public health dentistry.
“I believe that Dr. Fred embodies Dr. Martin Luther King’s legacy in many ways: his desire to help and inspire young people; his passion for giving back to the community; and his continued quest to better himself through education and professional practice,” says Emily Kulkus, assistant director of public and media relations at Upstate Medical University and adjunct instructor at the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications.
Gilbeaux works with On Point for College, a local not-for-profit organization, as a mentor, former board member and volunteer driver, while also providing free dental care to students in need. He is also associated with Syracuse Sunrise Rotary, having served as president of the organization. Gilbeaux has also been a member of Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, Inc. for 43 years.
Gilbeaux’s professional and community work has made him an important role model in his community. “His selfless dedication to others, combined with a consistently positive outlook on life, makes Dr. Fred someone any of us would be lucky to call a neighbor, colleague and friend,” says Kulkus.
Evan Weissman G’12
The late Evan Weissman was an associate professor in food studies and nutrition at Falk College. Weissman passed away on April 9, 2020, but his passion and work with social initiatives continues to serve as an inspiration for many. Weissman is receiving the award posthumously.
Weissman grew up in Syracuse and was passionate about his community. He joined the faculty of Falk College in 2012 and played a key role in creating the food studies program, for which he was the undergraduate director. He was also involved in Syracuse University’s Aging Studies Institute and the Maxwell School’s Department of Geography as an affiliated faculty member. Weissman put participatory learning and engagement at the forefront of his teaching and was also focused on equity, diversity and inclusion.
“As Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. accomplished through his teachings and life example, Evan Weissman similarly challenged his students to create positive change, inspiring them and all who worked with him to create that change through his passionate and tireless leadership and example,” says Rick Welsh, professor and chair of the Falk College’s Department of Nutrition and Food Studies.
Weissman’s lasting impact on his community can be observed through his countless contributions to various organizations, movements and publications. He worked with My Lucky Tummy, WAER’s City Limits project, Syracuse-Onondaga Food Systems Alliance, and countless others as an expert on food justice. “A tireless advocate for equity in the food system, his local work continues to serve as a national best practices model for bringing food justice to communities across urban America,” says Welsh.
“Professor Weissman had an unwavering commitment to social justice and worked through both scholarship and practice to achieve more just local food systems. As a mentor, he imparted a strong belief that revolutionary food systems change is possible. I share the recurring question Dr. Weissman asked his students and himself: ‘How can we use food as a tool for social change?’” says Welsh.
Sameeha Saied ’21
Sameeha Saied, a senior majoring in psychology in the College of Arts and Sciences, is an engaged member of the Syracuse community, both on and off campus. She has deeply impacted and inspired those around her through her involvement in various organizations on campus.
Saied has made a lasting impact through her work with organizations including Student Association, OttoTHON, Literary Corps and OrangeSeeds. Additionally, she has served as an orientation leader and SEM 100 peer facilitator. Through these roles, she has acted as a mentor and leader to new students transitioning to life at Syracuse University. Driven by the desire to make all students feel included and welcome, she advocated to expand SEM 100 into a full academic course, which the University is now planning to do.
“Throughout these troubling times, Sameeha has reinvested hope, resilience and dedication to her new community. As a strong woman of color on campus, Sameeha has not only changed the lives of students on campus but she has also inspired others to find their own voice and call to action, by embracing their own identities and lived experiences,” says Jimmy Luckman, a program coordinator in the Office of First-Year and Transfer Programs and advisor to OrangeSeeds.
In addition to her work on campus, Saied is also actively involved in the greater Syracuse community. She volunteers through weekly Saturday service as an OrangeSeeds member. In addition to working as a summer intern at Vera House, she has also interned with Literary Crops to tutor children in the Syracuse City School District.
Saied’s work and dedication have not gone unnoticed by those around her. “Sameeha has been a multifaceted leader within the community and has expanded hope through her work in multiple different aspects on campus and in the Syracuse community. I cannot think of a student that is more deserving of being a MLK Unsung Hero,” says Luckman.
This story was written by Whitney Welbaum ’23.