The 32nd Annual Lyman T. Johnson Awards Luncheon, which took place on October 13, 2023, marked a significant event celebrating academic excellence, diversity, and the legacy of Lyman T. Johnson. The ceremony brought together educators, leaders, colleges across UK’s campus and distinguished guests to honor outstanding individuals and scholarships that continue to empower and inspire the next generation. Shelli Freeland Eddie, a notable legal professional and UK alumna, was the luncheon’s keynote speaker. She has a strong dedication to community service and leadership, including breaking barriers as the first Black representative outside Sarasota’s predominantly Black community on the City Commission. She is known for her efforts to increase awareness about Hurricane Irma’s impact on a local Sarasota Black neighborhood and continues to actively mentor students within the Booker High School Law Academy.
About Lyman T. Johnson
Lyman T. Johnson, the namesake of the event, was a trailblazer who challenged the status quo and, in doing so, paved the way for a more inclusive and diverse education system. His determination was deeply rooted in his family’s legacy; his grandfather had the audacity to purchase his own freedom from slavery, and his father served as a school principal, instilling in him a commitment to educational excellence. In a landmark court case in 1949, Lyman T. Johnson challenged the discriminatory practices that had prevented African American students from attending the University of Kentucky. Thanks to his tenacity, that summer, nearly 30 African American students enrolled in graduate and professional programs at UK. Although Johnson did not complete his graduate studies there, the University awarded him an honorary degree in 1979.
Throughout his career as a teacher at Central High School in Louisville, Kentucky, spanning thirty-three years, Johnson became a vocal advocate for eliminating discrimination and addressing issues affecting minority communities. He fought tirelessly to end unequal pay for black teachers and served as an assistant principal and school board member for Jefferson County Public Schools. During the civil rights movement, he played a pivotal role in the struggle to integrate Jefferson County neighborhoods, swimming pools, schools, and restaurants. Lyman T. Johnson’s legacy was that of a grassroots leader who dedicated his life to fighting for equality in educational opportunities and strongly believing in the equality of all individuals.
The Lyman T. Johnson Scholarship
In honor of Lyman T. Johnson’s courageous efforts to open the doors of higher education to minority students at the University of Kentucky, the Lyman T. Johnson African American Alumni Constituency Group established an undergraduate scholarship in his name. This scholarship supports students of color in their pursuit of higher education, addressing the financial obstacles that often hinder academic success.
Torch of Excellence Award: Elaine Wilson, UK College of Social Work Alumna and Director of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion at Somerset Community College
Elaine A. Wilson, Director of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion at Somerset Community College, has a distinguished academic background. She holds Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in social work from the University of Kentucky College of Social Work and Case Western Reserve University, respectively. In May 2023, Elaine earned her Doctorate of Social Work from the University of Kentucky College of Social Work.
Elaine’s community involvement and leadership are highly commendable. She has held key positions in various professional and civic organizations, including the Somerset Board of Education and the University of Kentucky Alumni Association. In recognition of her dedication and service, she received the Excellence in Education Award from the Somerset/Pulaski County Chamber of Commerce in 2016 and the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Acts of Service Award from the City of Somerset in 2023.
Torch Bearer Award: Rujeko Machinga-Asaolu, UK College of Social Work Ph.D. student
Rujeko “Rue” Machinga-Asaolu, a certified social worker in Kentucky, holds a remarkable academic record. She has earned a Master of Science in Community Health Education, a Master of Science in Social Work, and a Master in Couple and Family Therapy. Rujeko is currently a Ph.D. student in Social Work at the University of Kentucky, focusing on the intersection of intimate partner violence, older adulthood, and immigration.
Rujeko’s dedication extends beyond academics. She is a national Board Member for the Association for Gerontology Education in Social Work (AGESW) and a recipient of the Lyman T. Johnson Fellowship.
About the Lyman T. Johnson African American Alumni Constituency Group
Since its inception in 1889, the UK Alumni Association is a self-governed, nonprofit membership organization that serves the University of Kentucky and its many alumni, students, parents and friends.
As part of the UK Alumni Association, the Lyman T. Johnson African American Alumni Constituency Group plays a large role in supporting, promoting, and initiating activities, program, and strategies which address the unique needs of, and foster the inclusion of, African American alumni in all aspects of university life. The group is working to increase the level of participation of African American alumni in the alumni affairs of the university, the UK Alumni Association, and its affiliated groups.