Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity Inc. present Unity Awards to Huntsville mayor and local DJ, protesters voice concerns over honoree

HUNTSVILLE, Ala. - If Martin Luther King Jr. were alive, he would be celebrating his 90th birthday this past week. On Monday, his life and legacy were honored with celebrations across the country, including in North Alabama.

"This year, like all other years is important because we stress the unity of the city," said Vice Chair of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity Inc. Alvin Odoms.

The fraternity hosted its 34th annual Unity Breakfast at the Von Braun Center to commemorate the civil rights activist and their fellow fraternity brother. During the event, the group presented two Unity Awards; one to DJ Frederick Whitlow with WEUP and another to Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle. This year, however, members of a local organization opposed the group's decision to honor Battle with the award.

Members of the North Huntsville Committee United for Action bore the cold Monday morning and held signs in protest.

"Martin Luther King stood for fairness and justice. So we need a mayor that will be for all of Huntsville. Not parts of Huntsville," said protestor Michael Jennings.

Protestors said they feel that certain north Huntsville neighborhoods aren't being prioritized.

"The overpass at Mastin Lake was supposed to be started. The loop on Bob Wade was supposed to come through Martin Luther King Jr. loop," said Jennings. "None of that has happened, but yet in south Huntsville, in southwest, you have all of this construction and building and spending millions and millions of dollars."

Mayor Battle accepted the award as not just his, but in honor of efforts by the community to continue to work toward equality and prosperity.

"We've gotta make sure that the success of Huntsville is everybody's success," said Battle. "Year after year after year, working towards unity of community. It's never over with."

He says new things are coming to all areas of Huntsville. "Just last week we were talking about a road going across A&M campus, connecting it to the parkway so we can have a hotel up at A&M. We're talking about industry coming in; Aerojet  Rocketdyne, Facebook coming in. We're talking about MLK [Hwy] being extended so we can have a new bypass. We're talking about a new library coming up in that area, new Parks."

Whitlow also sees room for progress.

"I'm really grateful because it's about my kids, it's about the block, it's about those who are marginalized, those that -- we really have to do more," he explained. "Unity becomes empowering."

Battle pledged that his office would always have an open table for conversation.

“Anyone who wants to build an inclusive community is welcome at our table. Together, we will continue to move forward, to unite, and to live up to Dr. King’s ideals."

All proceeds from the breakfast go to the fraternity's education foundation -- providing scholarships and mentoring programs to kids across the city.

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