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Newton student, county chairman, sisters named King Award winners
Honored for their efforts to help others and bring community together
Marcello Banes
Marcello Banes - photo by File Photo

COVINGTON, Ga. — A high school student who works with special needs students joined some sisters active in their community and a top government official in earning awards during Newton County’s 36th Annual Martin Luther King, Jr. Holiday Observance Sunday, Jan. 17.

The program was presented virtually rather than as a live event as has been done in the past. The theme was “The Urgency of Creating the Beloved Community.” 

Award winners for 2020 included:

• I Have A Dream Award: Marcello Banes;

• Trailblazer Award: Felicia Tuggle Harris and Chandra Tuggle Mitchell;

• Young Dreamer Award: Meredith McCrorey;


Marcello Banes is serving his second term as chairman of the Newton County Board of Commissioners, which is the county’s governing body.

"He is recognized for his numerous and varied involvement in the Newton County community and passion for unity since his youth. His commitment to unity and community is notable for this year’s focus on the National MLK Theme of 'The Urgency of Creating the Beloved Community.'

"Besides serving as the elected chairman of the Board of Commissioners in Newton County, his professional history includes broad managerial and operating experience in the field of trucking and logistics which has given him broad exposure to a variety of people. He is a minister and is involved with the altar intake ministry at his church, Springfield Baptist Church in Conyers. 

"Nominators emphasized his sincere dedication and compassion to all people and peacemaker spirit which propel his dream for a beloved community of "One Newton.' 

"He is also involved with the Early Hope Ministries, founder of the Annual Newton County Family Fun Day and involved with the Domestic Violence Task force. He volunteers and assists in employing graduates of the RSAT Drug Program and volunteers with TutorMate and serves as a reading volunteer."

The I Have a Dream Award winner must have given at least two years of service to the Newton County community; be a registered voter; affiliated with a church, synagogue or worship center; and made contributions to the community for which he did not receive profit, according to information from the organizing committee.

The nominee also must have been visible to the community; made nondiscriminatory contributions; models a spirit of peace and unity; is one who will initiate and support change; must be endowed with a humble spirit; must be steadfast in his or her convictions; and must be one who fosters and supports education on all levels.


Twin sisters Felicia Tuggle Harris and Chandra Tuggle Mitchell shared the Trailblazer Award.

"Felicia and Chandra are extremely active in their beloved Newton County community. They have taken the foundations of service implanted in them by their parents and church and spread it throughout the community.

"They are constantly serving others in the community without the pursuit of accolades but from the pure desire to use their gifts and energy to serve others. 

"From actively serving in their church, Mt. Zion AME (Mansfield) as lay and/or youth leaders, to the elderly in the community, or other youth in the National Action Network or Newton County School System, these twin sisters definitely share a gene of community servants to all for the betterment of their beloved community."


Meredith McCrorey, who is a senior in the STEM program at Newton College And Career Academy, earned the Young Dreamer Award award for her advocacy for special needs students.

McCrorey, who is a member of FFA, is the founder of Unique Kids Showing Pigs that encourages special needs students to learn to present livestock in shows.

"She has worked hard as a member of the FFA showing livestock, learning leadership skills, and serving her community. Meredith has always had a heart for other children. She first demonstrated this when she organized a backpack drive for financially less fortunate students while she was in elementary school. 

"Due to relationships with family friends with autism and Down's Syndrome, Meredith has a passion for those with special needs or disabilities. Since middle school she has worked to educate classmates about the hurtful use of the 'R-word' and has encouraged them to get to know their special needs classmates. 

"During her freshman year, she took a floral design class that included eight special needs students. One of the students with special needs, began telling Meredith she wanted to show a pig like her. Unfortunately, Meredith knew her classmate’s physical and behavioral disabilities would prevent her from participating in a traditional livestock show. 

"Meredith began researching opportunities for the special needs community to show livestock. Finding none, she set out to create one. Meredith worked with the special education department to make sure the program was safe and engaging for the participants. She raised money from the community to allow each exhibitor to show a pig without paying an entrance fee, and to receive a t-shirt and medal to commemorate their experience.

"In January 2019, Newton County hosted the first special needs livestock show in Georgia. The show, Unique Kids Showing Pigs, hosted 15 exhibitors. Each exhibitor was assigned a pig and a buddy who worked with them in the show arena. 

"In 2020, the show grew to 40 special needs exhibitors from pre-K to high school. The exhibitors represented all races and genders, and varying socioeconomic backgrounds. The exhibitors saw themselves included in something never before available to them, and the buddies learned that the abilities of these special needs students are greater than their disabilities. Meredith’s goal is for the program to continue in Newton County and to help expand it to other counties while in college. 

"Meredith has made a huge impact on special needs students who have traditionally been overlooked, ignored, or disadvantaged, in the spirit of Dr. King and his work for accessibility for the disabled members of our beloved community."

Main speaker Sonya Tinsley-Hook introduced the various parts of the program, including a choreographed dance by sisters Star and Sarai Baker to the song “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” and music by Antwon Barr.

A series of speakers brought the message to those watching online during the half-hour event.

They included high school student Kaegan Hill; activist Tyler Still; UGA alumna Toi Banks; entrepreneur and activist Timothy Birt; and educator Kenneth Hardeman.

Hannah Bodus also was a speaker. She earned the Oxford College of Emory University Martin Luther King Jr. Scholarship and was a 2020 graduate of Newton High School.