Story and Interviews by Teresa Nguyen
This year’s MLK Commemoration theme is “What Are You Doing for Others?” The theme is fitting for this story, which focuses on those who created this event and on the recipients of the 2024 awards. Each person involved and each award recipient has made a difference for others and continues to embody the philosophies of Dr. King. It is not simply a call to action, but seems to be a part of these individuals' very nature to create positive change.
At the event, the speeches were all inspiring, the Angel Choir of children was sweetly moving and the room filled with people on a dangerously cold, post-blizzard afternoon, when folks could have stayed home, brought hope to all.
History of the UAW Local 95 MLK Award Event
In the mid 70’s both José Carrillo and Roselyn Ackley came to work at General Motors.
Rose, originally from Stevens Point, had never even seen a Black person until she was 14 years old. Her mother was working as a cook at a restaurant and, on her lunch break from high school, she would go over and help out with the dishes at the restaurant.
One day, in the early 1950s, this large Black man came in and asked her if they would serve him a piece of pie.
Rose answered, “well, of course.”
He replied, “Oh, this is the first restaurant that will do that.”
Rose was puzzled by that, as it didn’t make sense. She gave him his pie and as he got ready to go, she saw that he had left a $1.50 tip, which was a lot in those days! She was AMAZED! Rose had come from a family of 17 kids and money was never there.
The man reached up his hand and said put your hand next to mine. So, she did, and his hand was about twice as long as hers! Then he asked Rose, “Have you ever heard of the Harlem Globetrotters?” She hadn’t.
The man said, “Well, we’re having a demonstration game at your high school. And my name is “Goose” Tatum.”
Rose said that she didn’t see him as a Black man, but just as a nice man who left her a very nice tip! That changed her perspective.
In 1957 Rose came to Beloit to babysit for her sister and ended up staying. First, she got a job at Freeman Shoes, then was a waitress for quite a few years. Later, after a difficult marriage and divorce, Rose started working at GM.
Rose became involved in a very small Civil Rights Committee with the United Auto Workers Local 95 union. Bernice Hachett had been the chair of the committee and Rose became secretary. Rose was on the committee for about seven years before José Carrillo joined the group.
The Martin Luther King Jr. Service Award started as a committee project in 1980. For the first several years, the award ceremony and event were held at the UAW Hall. Attendance was small, though, which was frustrating for the organizing group.
José Carrillo, originally from Guadalajara, Mexico, was always an activist, even as a teenager in Mexico, helping to get people to vote in their elections. After making his way to America, and then to Wisconsin, he kept busy working for the rights of Latino workers at GM with the UAW. When Bernice retired, José stepped in and became the head of the Civil Rights Committee.
José asked Shirley Brickson and Rose Ackley to go to different conventions and things because they had NAACP cards. They would learn things and bring that information back to the committee. The group also organized diversity classes for about 10 people at a time.
Rose noted, “People think they’re not racist, but I had women in my class crying because their eyes were opened to the truth. There isn’t just one form of racism, there are many kinds and some are very subtle.”
The group was trying to inform and educate people about the varying degrees of racism.
With the low attendance at the MLK event, the group decided to try and bridge the divide between Beloit and Janesville, to bring the two cities together. They went to the dean of Blackhawk Technical College to see if they could host the event. The dean agreed and was very helpful. At BTC, the event grew over the years.
Several awards were given out since that first ceremony. Some of them were:
• MLK Service Award
• The Freedom Award
• YWCA Peace Award
• YWCA Racial Justice Award
• Lifetime Civil Rights Service Award
In 2008, GM announced the closing of the Janesville plant. As just one more piece of the domino effect after GM closed its doors, the UAW Civil Rights Committee dispersed. Rose was the only one left to keep things together.
Slowly things turned around again. The dean of Blackhawk Technical College continued to host the MLK event and the Diversity Action Team of Rock County became involved led by members like Santo Carfora, Neil Deupree and Leslie Brunsell.
DAT board member, Leslie Brunsell, had started an ethnic food festival that took place at Pick ‘n Save to create awareness about the Diversity Action Team.
Around the year 2000 She was approached by the MLK event committee to bring her ethnic foods festival to Blackhawk Technical College for the MLK event.
Leslie had joined the committee, which included Walter Knight and Barbara Hickman, at the time. The committee eventually grew to about a dozen people!
There were people from both Beloit and Janesville involved. People contacted others through their churches to bring food to the event.
Leslie remembered that there were around 400 in attendance at its peak! There were a lot of kids involved in the program, as well as entertainment from both cities. And the food contributions kept growing in both quantity and diversity!
Then the COVID-19 pandemic arrived. The event went virtual for a couple of years and serving food came to an end.
The YWCA got involved when they started giving the Racial Justice Award. The team at BTC and YWCA Racial Justice Director, Amiee Leavy, continue to be involved today.
This year's event partners were the American Association of University Women (AAUW), Blackhawk Technical College, JATV Media Services, KOLSTE family, School District of Beloit, United Auto Workers (UAW) Local 95, YWCA Rock County. Diversity Action Team of Rock County also had a supporting presence at this event.
Former YWCA Executive Director, Angela Moore, commented that it is a wonderful event, always with inspirational speakers and phenomenal award recipients. At the previous events, you would walk in and you could smell the food! They seemed to make sure there was a variety of authentically represented foods, as well. It was a hit!
Angela added that the MLK event is also a good opportunity to network with others in the community.
The 2024 Recipients
Edna Feldman-Schultz received this year’s MLK Civil Rights Service Award after decades of making a difference in the lives of others. Edna’s tireless service to our community, her commitment and passion to educate and create awareness of other cultures and her unwavering activism for diversity, equity and inclusion made her a perfect candidate for this meaningful award.
While teaching at Parker High School, Edna founded and coordinated the Human Relations Club as well as a Heritage Speakers Class for her Latino students. Her involvement grew by leaps and bounds through the years.
Edna has served on several local nonprofit boards and continues serving today as a board member of Diversity Action Team and The Women’s Fund. She also volunteers for a variety of local events. Edna, a lifelong learner, and lifetime educator, is a woman who does not just talk the talk, but rather walks the walk!
To read Edna’s story, click on the link: https://www.janesvilleareastories.com/edna-feldman-schultz
Silvia Donday-Selenske was this year’s YWCA Racial Justice Award recipient. Silvia has worked for many years as a bilingual banker and is currently Assistant Vice President, Loan Officer at Premier Bank.
But it is not just her work that has made Silvia stand out, but the time and energy she has spent volunteering to make a difference in our community. Silvia has devoted countless hours teaching those with limited English skills about a variety of financial literacy topics like budgeting, securing credit and more. She also joined the newly created Latinx Council.
As the current chair of the Latinx Council, Silvia has focused on building business resources and a stronger business community for our Latino business owners.
Silvia is also involved with the Immigrant Support Network in Janesville and the Stateline Literacy Council.
The Late José Carrillo received this year’s Lifetime Civil Rights Service Award. José had worked for General Motors for 30 years and was involved with the United Auto Workers union leadership. In this position, José helped Latino workers with housing and work opportunities and then joined the Civil Rights Committee with the UAW.
He was instrumental in helping to organize the first MLK Commemoration event. José was president of that committee for nearly 20 years.
Beyond the UAW, José served on several boards at both the local and state levels. He worked all the way to the end, even after some health setbacks, to make a difference in the lives of those without a voice.
José was passionate about education and helped found, and served as a board member of Rock University High School. José also mentored students in math and science and worked for the School District of Janesville with Latino families and students.
Through his efforts in the UAW, at the state level and in education, José made a remarkable difference in the lives of many!
Read José’s story here: https://www.janesvilleareastories.com/post/jos%C3%A9-carrillo
On Making a Difference
When Rose was asked what we can do to make a difference, she replied, “For one, don’t see color and don’t label things or people. Why even call people by their race? We are all just people. We are all Americans. If we stop labeling people, that will create much needed change. And we have to keep working on this every day, every hour.”
Angela Moore shared her memories of the history of MLK Day and thoughts on what we can do to make that change:
The MLK holiday started state by state. I worked on the passage of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day being a holiday in the State of Virginia back in the 1970’s. There was already a Jackson and Lee holiday and then they put them all together creating a King, Jackson, Lee Day. How offensive to add Dr. King’s name alongside the names two Confederate generals!
It was finally approved at the national level in 1983 by President Ronald Reagan with a bill making the third Monday in January a federal holiday in observance of Dr. King's legacy.
It was something that we worked really hard to get into effect. I marched every year. We wanted to call attention to what Dr. King fought for. I’ve always held this day near and dear to my heart. I love listening to the words of wisdom from the speakers and seeing the entertainment.
I would always take my grandchildren to a restaurant after the MLK events to demonstrate to them that this was a kind of place that we could not go to before Dr. King. It’s important to understand the progress that we’ve made and for them to learn of the sacrifices of others who fought for our rights.
If I could impart any words of advice, they would be to continue to tell the story, to gather together, to focus on service for our community to make a difference.
Also, register to vote because he worked for that right, too. Before the Civil Rights Act in 1965, we could not even vote! We have to fight against any kind of voter suppression, so that we don’t go backwards in history. It would be a great tribute to his legacy if we all would get registered and vote.