Hugs abound at Scottsdale’s 24th Annual MLK Jr. Dinner set for Jan. 9

Prepare for a speaker who gives hugs at the 24th Annual Martin Luther King, Jr. “Living the Dream” Dinner on Tuesday, Jan. 9, 2018.

The annual event set at The Scottsdale Resort at McCormick Ranch, 7700 E. McCormick Ranch Parkway, is hosted by Community Celebrating Diversity and APS, according to a press release.

The Free Hugs Project founder Ken E. Nwadike, Jr. is the featured keynote speaker at the January event honoring the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King. Jr. (Submitted photo)

The featured keynote speaker is Ken E. Nwadike, Jr., founder of the Free Hugs Project. The celebration also honors 2018 Diversity Champions award recipients Marybell Ramirez-Deeds and André Watkins.

“We will be celebrating the impact and work that goes on in Scottsdale,” said Helen Gandara, Community Celebrating Diversity event chairperson and boardmember. “We also celebrate the work of diversity champions.”

The event averages about 400 people in attendance, said Ms. Gandara, the Scottsdale Police Department assistant chief.

Her involvement in the cultural awareness organization spans more than 17 years. She said she appreciates the diverse selection of board members ranging from backgrounds in corporate, medical and academia.
She said Scottsdale’s celebration is for the entire Valley and includes nationally renowned speakers representing many perspectives honoring the history and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

This year’s speaker, Mr. Nwadike Jr., is a peace activist, inspirational speaker and video journalist known as the “Free Hugs Guy.” The Free Hugs Project gained popularity making headlines for his peacekeeping efforts and de-escalation of violence during protests, riots, and political rallies.

2018 Diversity Champions:

Marybell Ramirez-Deeds

• Marybell Ramirez-Deeds has left a legacy in the community by creating, sustaining and organizing community initiatives celebrating Latino families’ culture. A 15-year employee with the Boys and Girls Club of Greater Scottsdale, she is a branch director at the new Scottsdale Charros Branch, who mentors the youth, their parents and generations of families. She connects local youth to the Boys and Girls Club; provides outreach with many Scottsdale youth by ensuring that they receive dental services, clothing, school supplies, referrals for any assistance they need.

André Watkins

• André Watkins co-founded the Arizona Men’s Health and Wellness Expo. He encourages hundreds of men to take ownership of their health and connects them to resources in the Valley to achieve this. The Expo unifies a broad and diverse body of local individuals, community based organizations, businesses, hospitals and other clinical care providers to present topics elevating men’s health as a community priority.

The evolution of the MLK dinner was initiated by the nonprofit’s founding member, Sandra Rembrandt, who wanted Scottsdale to host its own Martin Luther King, Jr. celebration rather than travel to Phoenix for celebrations.

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Independent Newsmedia News Services Specialist Delarita Ford can be reached by e-mail at

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