Changemakers honored at ASU MLK Jr. Celebration

Posted on January 11, 2017 • Category: Center for the Future of Arizona

One ASU student and two influential Arizonans were selected as the 2017 Community Servant-Leadership awardees as a part of Arizona State University's 32nd annual Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration for their influential work in the community.

Amber Poleviyuma and Lattie and Elva Coor were honored at the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Breakfast Celebration on Jan. 19 at the ASU Polytechnic campus.

The awardees were selected by the ASU MLK Jr. Committee for their servant leadership, for their philosophy of serving first, then leading as a way of expanding service.

The breakfast also honored 24 students in grades K-12 who were selected from more than 1,300 entries, as winners of the committee’s s annual statewide children’s essay and drawing contest.

Contest participants were required to either create a poster illustrating their definition of leadership through service, or write an essay or poem about an individual who personifies that definition. This year’s theme is "Be the face of change."

Poleviyuma, the Student Servant-Leadership awardee, is a community health student at ASU’s College of Nursing and Health Innovation.

“The teachings of my grandpa and my mom instilled the values that I have that make me want to give back and contribute to the community,” she said.

Inspired by her family, members of the Hopi tribe in northern Arizona’s Moenkopi village, Poleviyuma said she aims to use her research to affect policy. In accordance with the Native American values of community and selflessness, she hopes to make a difference in the community and expand communication and understanding across racial and ethnic barriers.

“Even though we don’t have a lot of money and we’re from a place that doesn’t have a lot of resources, we still find ways to give back to each other,” Poleviyuma said.

Although she is interested in addressing a wide variety of issues including environmental, government and health issues, she said she is especially focused on reducing the number of youth suicides on Native American reservations through culturally relevant preventative programming. In 2014, Poleviyuma worked with the Center for American Indian Resilience to conduct research for the Native American Cancer Prevention project, which explored the experiences of Native American cancer patients with health-care providers. She helped in founding Native Americans for Academics, Success and Unity, an ASU club meant to help Native American students reach their academic goals while engaging with the community.

“That was a way to help with representation and give Native students here on campus a place to be and ways to give back,” she said.

Poleviyuma also worked with the ASU Tribal Nations Tour to reach out to Native American students throughout the state and inspire these students to pursue a college degree upon completing high school. She said Martin Luther King Jr. stood up for people who couldn’t stand up for themselves, and she hopes to do the same.

Poleviyuma says she leads by example to create greater understanding among different peoples, and in this way, hopes to show that these issues aren’t just Native American issues — they’re shared issues.


Community Servant-Leadership Awardees Elva and Lattie Coor were honored at the ASU Martin Luther King Jr. Breakfast Celebration on Jan. 19 for their contributions to the community.

Native Arizonans Lattie and Elva Coor, the Community Servant-Leadership awardees, have a rich tradition of giving back to the community in a variety of leadership roles. Lattie F. Coor is President-Emeritus and Ernest W. McFarland Arizona Heritage Chair in Leadership and Public Policy at ASU, and chairman and CEO of the Center for the Future of Arizona.

“All of us have an opportunity to bring attention to these issues and then speak out on them,” he said.

Growing up, Coor lived in a diverse area in Avondale, which inspired him to become a champion for equal access to education, regardless of socioeconomic or racial background.

“The world as I knew it had this rich array of people. ... A significant number were low-income,” Coor said. “I had the privilege of seeing there, what education could do for their lives.”

Throughout his adult life, Coor worked to make the equal opportunity he envisioned into a reality and has received many awards for his work thus far. For the past 26 years, he has served as a university president, first at the University of Vermont from 1976 to 1989, then at Arizona State University from 1990 to 2002. During his time at ASU, he hoped to make the university’s population reflect the diversity within the community.

“There were major ways to change and shape it for the future, and it was that, above all, being in a university and being able to help it as it grew and developed, is what caused me to devote my whole career to that,” Coor said.

In 2002, he founded the Center for the Future of Arizona, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization designed to research and act upon issues relating to the state’s economy, quality of life and civic health. One of the organization’s main focuses is education, and includes a program called SpeakOut AZ that was designed to increase civic participation throughout Arizona and include civics curriculum in schools.

SpeakOut AZ was created by Coor’s wife and co-awardee, Elva Coor, who attributes her passion for public service and organizing to growing up on a farm and ranch where there was always something that needed to be done and you had to find a way to do it.  Next came an internship in the U. S. Senate that led to 18 years in the political arena – as a staff member, assuming organizational roles in local, state and national political campaigns providing insight into what could be done if thousands of people worked together.

Later, 20 years of running her own business taught her to listen to what people need, then fill the need - and that community work was rewarding, good for the soul, and for business. When she married Lattie, he charged her with bringing the greater community and University together – leading to founding the ASU President’s Community Enrichment Programs; Building Great Communities, and a program to increase the graduation rate of African-American students at ASU.   

SpeakOut AZ was inspired by Justice Sandra Day O’Connor who charged Coor and team to increase civic participation but got its legs from the CFA mantra “The Arizona We Want – The Education We Need.” Individuals, nonprofits, organizations and businesses all cared about their kids and their education – especially getting them started on the right foot to ensure high school graduation prepared for college or career.

Coor recruited a stellar group of community leaders to facilitate the recruitment of volunteers and align community resources with school needs in low-income areas.   It will take the commitment of thousands of volunteers, nonprofits and other organizations to provide teachers and principals with the manpower needed to provide every child the individual attention they need to succeed….and to fill the gaps of enrichment programs such as art, music, civic education and sports no longer available due to declining investment in low-income schools over the past 24 years. 

These enriching opportunities are critical to ensuring every child has an equal opportunity to succeed.  They can play a key role in decreasing crime, high school drop-out, welfare, the need for remedial education and the cost of the growing prison population.  Working together we will learn to appreciate and respect each other – regardless of income level, race, religion or education – while building heathier communities.  

Much of this blog post is from an article originally published on ASU NOW