Youth Awards

The Lionel Washington Johnson Youth Awards: Writing

The Martin Luther King Coalition has always considered involving youth an essential component of the community celebration of Martin Luther King Day. After all, in his most famous speech, one of Dr. King’s most poignant statements was the expression of his dream for the children: that they would one day be able to attend school & play together regardless of the colors of their skin. Therefore, from its early years, the Coalition has invited all children from the state of New Hampshire to participate in the celebration, initially through an Arts & Writing Contest – which grew to be so large that it was impossible to judge; then revised as the Writing Contest, made manageable by being aimed at a particular age group: Grades 5-8.

The importance of youth is strongly reflected in the Martin Luther King Coalition Community Celebration itself: when the School Board of the state’s largest School District (Manchester) moved to recognize Martin Luther King Day as an official school holiday, many school districts followed, and although it was to be years before the Legislature would do the same, the Community Celebration was moved from the Sunday prior to Martin Luther King Day, to the federal government holiday on Martin Luther King Day itself

The late Lionel Washington Johnson (January 16, 1923 – June 5, 2004) was a Founding Member of the Martin Luther King Coalition; some considered him the “backbone” of the group. He had great compassion for our young people, and was an outspoken advocate for youth-at-risk. Elected to 8 terms in the NH House of Representatives, in addition to helping establish Martin Luther King Day as an official holiday in NH, his focus was clear: he served three terms as a member of the Committee on Children, Youth, and Juvenile Justice; two terms on the Committee on Judiciary and Family Law; and three terms on the Committee on Children and Family Law.

He was passionate about youth being educated about the principles of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and was frequently sought out to speak on the subject at schools throughout the state. Manchester Central High School was his favorite, and, likewise, he was its favorite Guest Speaker; year after year he was chosen to address the student body of the most diverse student body in the state of New Hampshire.

He served on the Steering Committee of the Martin Luther King Coalition from its inception 28 years ago. At the June 2004 Steering Committee Meeting after his passing, following a long moment of silence, 2010 Martin Luther King Award Recipient-to-be, Arnie Alpert said “Now let’s do what Lionel would want us to do: move on!” And the first move they made was to pay tribute to him by changing the name of the award given to the winner of the Martin Luther King Youth Challenge/Arts & Writing Contest to the Lionel Washington Johnson Youth Award.

2022 Writing
  • 1st-Ariana Metzger, Newington Public School
  • 2nd- Drew Verweij, Barrington Middle School
  • 2nd- Mark Stapleton, Auburn Village School
2020 Writing
  • 1st-Samuel Petit, Keene Middle School
  • 2nd-Anna Stanton, Auburn Middle School
2015 Arts
  • 1st – Nikita Bhat, Webster Elementary School
  • 2nd – Rhiannon Day, Gilford Middle School
2015 Writing
  • 1st – Lexi Turner, Rye Junior High School
  • 2nd – Madison Miller, Towle Elementary School
  • 2nd – Lea Cohen, Rye Junior High School
2014 Arts
  • 1st – Timothy Luhtjarv, Jaffrey-Rindge Middle School, Jaffrey
  • 2nd – Anastase Kabala, Henry J. McLaughlin Jr. Middle School, Manchester
2014 Writing
  • 1st – Mustafa Eyceoz, World Academy
  • 2nd – Holly Galvin, Rye Junior High School
2012 Arts
  • 1st – Rebeka Aherrera, Gossler Park School (Manchester)
  • 2nd – Morgan Guerrier, Gossler Park School (Manchester)
2012 Writing
  • 1st – Caria Imbornone, St. Joseph’s Regional Catholic School
  • 2nd – Ervenson Louis Jacques, Gossler Park School
2010 Arts
  • 1st – Danielle Lelio, Oyster River Middle School, Durham
  • 2nd – Mercedes Murphy, Oyster River Middle School, Durham
  • Honorable Mention – Isabelle Beagen, Oyster River Middle School, Durham
2010 Writing
  • 1st – Matt Segil, Oyster River Middle School, Durham
  • 2nd – Amanda Martin, Oyster River Middle School, Durham
  • Honorable Mention – Jake Scarponi, Barrington Middle School, Barrington
2009 Arts
  • 1st place – Pranav Nanda, Oyster River Middle School, Durham
  • 2nd place – Jialin Shi, Oyster River Middle School, Durham
2009 Writing
  • 1st place – Connor Grove, Oyster River Middle School, Durham
  • 2nd place – Lydia Watt, Oyster River Middle School, Durham
2008 Writing
  • Omer Elrayah, Southside Middle School, Manchester
2007 Arts
  • 1st – Victoria Harmon, Hollis-Brookline Middle School, Hollis
  • 2nd – Kestrel Arthur Cole-McCrea, home-schooled, Milton
2007 Writing
  • 1st – Elizabeth Merrill, Kearsarge Regional Middle School, New London
  • 2nd – Alexa Foss, Kearsarge Regional Middle School, New London
  • Honorable Mention – Caiti Deane, Pittsfield Elementary School, Pittsfield
  • Central High School Chapter of Amnesty International & Central High School Diversity Club, Manchester
  • Pine Tree Elementary School, Conway

A Tribute to Lionel Johnson

Presentation by Regis Lemaire on Lionel winning the Good Samaritan Award, Presented by Pastoral Counseling:

One can usually find Lionel Johnson, sometime in the day, at Fashion Cleaners on the corner of Cedar and Maple Street. On entering the store you’ll see a bulletin board, where people can post an activity or function taking place in the neighborhood. Asking for Lionel, he will come to the front saying “How can I help you?”

You see, service, to Lionel, is a way of life. They say for a true life of fulfillment one must look to helping others. The real secret, as Lionel knows, is to enjoy it.

He has had adverse and difficult situations in his life but has been able to transcend any impediment, always looking for the success gained in any undertaking.

Priorities for him have been Family, Community, State and country. He has seen successes in all these areas.

Family – He raised 5 daughters that like dad have contributed to the communities in which they reside.

Community – He has been instrumental in the formation of The Greater Manchester Black Scholarship Foundation, the Manchester Chapter of the NAACP. He served on committees for the Summer Food Program, Weed and Seed, the Greater Manchester Cultural Diversity Task Force, just too many to name in his 60 years in Manchester.

State – Lionel has represented his neighborhood in the State legislature for more than 25 years, serving on the Family and Youth committee. One of his great accomplishments was the State of New Hampshire adopting The Martin Luther King Jr. Holiday.

He served his COUNTRY in military service;

At 8o years of age this year, he is still serving. He’s kept his eyes on the prize of service.

MLK Youth Challenge Award

  • 2004: Middle School at Parkside, Manchester
  • 2003: Central High School Chapter of Amnesty International, Manchester & Central High School Diversity Club, Manchester
  • 2002: Danville Elementary School, Danville