Since 1986, America has celebrated the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. through observances that teach, excite, and inspire the next generation of leaders.

From 1999-2005, Southeast Missouri State University held a memorial breakfast to honor Dr. King. In 2006, King's eldest son, Martin Luther King III, was invited to be the keynote speaker for the first campus celebration dinner. The 2006 dinner initiated a new tradition that continues to garner growing involvement by students, faculty, staff, alumnae, and community members from the southeast Missouri region and beyond. 

Martin Luther King, Jr. Celebration

Each year, Southeast honors Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. with a celebratory dinner featuring a guest speaker to share their story and diversity and acceptance.

2023 Theme:

Coming Together: The Fierce Urgency of Now
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Celebration
Wednesday, January 25, 2023
Show Me Center

Doors open at 5 p.m. and the program begins at 6 p.m.
2023 MENU

About the Speaker 

Kendra Neely-Martin

Professionally shot photo of MLK Dinner Speaker, Kendra Neely-Martin

St. Louis, Missouri native Kendra Neely-Martin is an advocate for the narrowing of disparities associated with access to quality care, health literacy and the impact chronic disease has on underserved communities. A recognized Influencer, Neely-Martin works with several boards and organizations on both the regional and national level to improve academic access and professional success by sustaining networks and establishing platforms that address equity, inclusion and diversity advancements.

A doting mother and community leader, she harnesses the power of giving, as a passionate mentor who views volunteerism as an invaluable component needed to foster citizenship and sustain communities. She wholeheartedly displays the internalization of the concept of Ubuntu, with the resounding homage “I am because we are,” as a contributing factor to her distinguished brand and undying record of service and effective leadership with several not-for-profit organizations, boards and subcommittees.

Most notable is her life work with the BackPack to BriefCase Mentoring and Scholarship Program (BPBC), co-founder and executive director, which has provided scholarships and mentoring/professional development support to college students across the Midwest Region over the past 14 years. With the addition of a virtual platform BPBC now has both national and international reach and participation. The BackPack to BriefCase Program has been instrumental in cultivating the classroom to corporate mind-shift for program participants, supporting the career planning and placement efforts of colleges across the St. Louis Metropolitan Area, in addition to addressing the diversity/inclusion needs of major corporations. Neely-Martin is a sought-after consultant who leverages her 25-year pharmaceutical industry experience to impact Diversity Inclusion and Equity challenges by narrowing gaps experienced by minorities in the workplace. Her global leadership and training experiences include leading industry training on unconscious bias, cultural awareness in hiring practices, team development and how to foster psychological safety.

Neely-Martin, currently passionately serves the The Marquia Lewis Foundation Board of Directors and serves as a chaplain and Arts and Letters co-chair for the St, Louis Metropolitan Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority Inc.

Formerly Neely-Martin has served as: two term member of St. Louis Country Day School Board of Directors, Delta Sigma Theta Sorority Inc. St. Louis Metropolitan Alumnae Chapter Educational Development Chair, Not One More Life – STL Board, American Heart Association Minority Council Gospel for Heart Sake Power to End Stroke, City Academy School and Committee Member Cultural Festivals Big Read Committee, Camp For All Kids, Girl Scouts of Eastern Missouri, Missouri Extension 4-H Leader, National Sales Network mentoring chair, Mary Institute and St. Louis Country Day School (MICDS) African American Support Committee and Lift for Life Academy mentor

Neely-Martin’s awards and recognition include the: National Jefferson Award - Nobel Prize for Public Service, 2011 Gubernatorial Appointment Southeast Missouri State University Board of Regents, Ingram’s Most Influential Missourians, Astellas Pharma US Ivan Martinez Community Service Award, St, Louis Metropolitan Alumnae Trailblazing Soror in Social Justice and Advocacy in Education Award, 2011 National Sales Network Outstanding Achievers Award for the development of the nationally recognized NSN STL Backpack to Briefcases Mentoring/ Scholarship Program, 2011 National Sales Network Black Business Women Who Rock –

Rock Star Award, 2011 Jefferson Award, A Nobel Prize for Public Service, for her with the Delta Sigma Theta Sorority Delta Academy and Delta GEMS Mentoring Program, St. Louis Metropolitan Alumnae Chapter (SLMAC) and 2010 Central Region Recognition for Exposing Children to the Arts and Missing and Exploited Children PSA, 2009-10 SLMAC Member of Year Award, 2008 St. Louis Science Center Shining Star Award and the 2007 American Heart Association Minority Council Commitment to Communities Community Leaders Award.

She earned a Bachelor of Science in marketing from Southeast Missouri State University, Master of Arts in marketing from Webster University and a Parenting Instructor Certificate from Centers for Improving Child Caring.

MLK Celebration Past Speakers

Since 2006, celebrated guest speakers have come to Southeast Missouri State University to honor the late Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, the first being King's eldest son, Martin Luther King III. Check out some of our other previous speakers.

Each year, the Martin Luther King, Jr (MLK) Celebration Planning Committee plans, organizes, and executes the annual dinner as well as other campus and community-wide activities on the campus of Southeast Missouri State University to commemorate Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.   

MLK Planning Committee members include faculty and staff from various colleges and departments across campus. The committee also includes Graduate Assistants from the Office of Institutional Equity & Diversity and the LGBTQ+ Resource Center, students involved in the TRIO/Student Support Services Program, the MLK Scholars, and a representative from the Student Government Association (SGA).   

The MLK Co-Chairs are appointed by the Provost and serve two years appointments.  

MLK Planning Committee Members Title
Dr. Melissa Odegard, co-chair
Chair, Psychology & Counseling
Dr. Shonta Smith, co-chair Chair/Associate Professor Elementary, Early & Special Education 
Michelle Irby  Director, Campus Life & Event Services 
Dana Saverino
Director of Creative Marketing Strategy
Tammy Underwood  Executive Assistant, Assistant to the President & Dean of Students
Tonya Wells  Assistant Vice President for Marketing & Communications 
Valdis Zalite  Director, TRIO Programs 


Special Projects Title
Ms. Taylor Johnson  Events Supervisor, Show Me Center 
Ms. Chistie McIntosh  Catering Director, Chartwells  
Mr. Kurt Walker Campus Executive Chef, Chartwells  

Martin Luther King, Jr. Celebration

Thank you for your interest in attending this celebratory dinner! If you would like to purchase a ticket, table or sponsorship, please select one of the following options.

MLK Committee
Contact Us
Academic Hall 010 - 011
Mailing Address
One University Plaza, MS 3375
Cape Girardeau, Missouri 63701