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10-year-old who delivered water to Flint wins MLK award

By Kat Tenbarge
The Columbus Dispatch

(January 12, 2017) — Ten-year-old Mackenzie Lewis sang, spoke and smiled wide Thursday as she received the Governor’s Humanitarian Award at the 32nd annual Ohio Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Commemorative Celebration at Trinity Episcopal Church.

The fifth-grader from Berwick Alternative K-8 in Columbus demonstrated her commitment to selfless service through a safe-water fundraiser for the people of Flint, Michigan, where the community water system was contaminated. In two trips, she delivered 1,330 cases and 320 gallons of water to the mostly black and disproportionately poor community.

“Me and my mom were watching the news, and what caught my eye was all this dirty water — just plain, old, brown water. That is way unfair that we have clean water and they don’t,” Mackenzie said.

She organized a church water drive and challenged other parishes to donate. Then came a festival, called Kids Helping Kids, in which summer camps donated clean water, paper products and hand sanitizer.

She cited her mother as her biggest inspiration, but King ranks highly, too.

“August 2013. I was at the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington. I had heard about Dr. King and his dream,” Mackenzie said. “I stood in his presence.”

The theme of “his presence” reverberated throughout her speech, which won first place in the intermediate division of the 2017 Statewide MLK Oratorical Contest. Three other winners also spoke, including Ivy Holley, the first-place winner in the senior division.

“We, as a country, are constantly witnessing community in the midst of chaos,” said Ivy, a high school sophomore from Lima. Her speech examined the nature of hashtags and social media in cases of police brutality.

Mackenzie said she draws inspiration from King, in part because he persevered in the face of great opposition to civil rights.

“No matter what, if they’re mean, rude, disrespectful, he just kept on marching. If they got tear-gassed, he just kept on marching,” Lewis said.

Lt. Gov. Mary Taylor gave a short speech focusing on King’s timeless legacy at the event, which was sponsored by the Ohio Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Holiday Commission.

“In his speech, Dr. King calls for an all-embracing and unconditional love for all of mankind, which is an absolute necessity,” Taylor said in advance of the national Martin Luther King Jr. holiday on Monday.

For her next effort to embrace King’s message, Mackenzie wants to take on cancer. She plans a Get Rid of Cancer program, starting with a booth where she can pass out fliers. Her dream is to one day be a pediatrician, and to try to find the cure for cancer.

Asked why her mission is to serve others, Mackenzie shrugged.

“I don’t know; that’s just me,” she said. “I guess I’m just that type of person.”