PROVIDENCE — Linda A’Vant-Deishinni, a prominent member of the African-American Catholic community in Rhode Island, was honored with the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. State Holiday Commission Community Service Award, commemorating her service to the people of the state in a celebration held in honor of MLK Jr. Day, Jan. 16, at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Providence.
A’Vant-Deishinni is the executive director of the St. Martin de Porres Multi-Service Center and the coordinator of the diocese’s Office of Black Catholic Ministry.
The day’s celebrations, organized by the Martin Luther King, Jr. State Holiday Commission, began with opening statements from Rep. Raymond Hull of District 6.
“What a beautiful afternoon to be with you, as we come here to celebrate the late Dr. Martin Luther King,” Hull said to a packed congregation. “I thank you from the bottom of my heart, for all that black people have done, and are still doing, to make our freedoms possible.”
As the celebrations continued, various local politicians and community leaders delivered speeches in which they reflected on the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and the need to continually stand up for social justice. Speeches were interspersed with the impassioned singing of various spiritual and political songs by the RPM Voices of Rhode Island choir, an organization that promotes traditional African-American spiritual and political music. The night’s events also included the granting of awards to various local citizens who were seen as contributing much to the fight for social justice and civil rights in their communities.
Gov. Daniel McKee said it was important for state and community leaders to continue the legacy of Dr. King’s political project.
“I’m here to commit the State of Rhode Island to do everything it can to meet those goals,” the governor said. “Our goal should be to, with one voice, combat bigotry, hate, and intolerance. We are here today to do just that.”
In her acceptance speech upon receiving the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. State Holiday Commission Community Service Award, A’Vant-Deishinni noted the importance of a relationship with God and having a strong sense of family and community in bringing about the cause of social justice.
“If any of you come to the St. Martin de Porres Center, you will always hear me say I am truly blessed, and I will say that over and over again,” A’Vant-Deishinni said. “God has truly blessed me because he’s placed so many special people in my life.”
A’Vant-Deishinni noted that her desire to live a life of service to the larger community was something inspired by her parents, who exemplified a sense of self-giving love and showed her the importance of family. This created within her an attitude that moved her to interact with all people in a manner similar to how her and her family interacted, something she sees even in the selfless service of many of the volunteers at the Center.
Established in 1970, the St. Martin de Porres Multi-Service Center is a diocesan initiative meant to help seniors navigate the often complicated process of receiving Social Security, Medicaid, Food Stamps, medical assistance and other similar needs.
The Center also offer day services for senior citizens as part of a larger network of organizations and centers throughout the state who work in cooperation with one another to provide services for seniors.
The Center is named after the 17th century South American saint Martin de Porres. A member of the Dominican Order, St. Martin de Porres spent most of his time as a religious working in an infirmary associated with his convent. He was also renowned for his almsgiving. It is for this reason that he is the patron saint of social justice, the poor, and public health workers. As the son of a Spanish father and an African mother, he is also considered the patron saint of those who work for interracial harmony.
“I was much honored to be recognized by the Dr. Martin Luther King State Commission,” A’Vant-Deishinni told Rhode Island Catholic.
A’Vant-Deishinni repeated many of the sentiments that she had expressed in her acceptance speech. She said that her family life was one of the most important elements of her moral and spiritual development.
Born in Warwick, she grew up in a large family, being the oldest of 12 children. This created a context defined by an attitude of self-giving love and a sense of duty. This was something particularly emphasized by her parents. “As a child my parents taught us the importance of caring for your family, neighbors and your community,” she went on to note.
A’Vant-Deishinni further stated that her family was extremely devout, being involved in the Church from an early age and attending daily Mass. Yet, this instilled in her not only a sense of religious devotion but further solidified her sense of service to her community.
“My parents instilled in us the importance of not only attending daily Mass, but being active in our parish,” she said.
She recalls how St. Martin de Porres was a constant part of her life. She remembers as a child her family displaying prominently in their home a statue of both the Blessed Virgin Mary and St. Martin de Porres. A’Vant-Deishinni notes how, even as a child, she was inspired both by St. Martin’s strong devotion to the poor as well as his larger symbolic significance for Catholics of African-American descent.
A’Vant-Deishinni first became involved with the diocese 12 years ago, when she began to work with Diocesan Elder Services, and has served as the executive director of the St. Martin de Porres Multi-Service Center for the past four years. She has also served as the coordinator of the Office of Black Catholic Ministry for nearly the past two years.
Although the recent COVID-19 pandemic resulted in many events associated with the Office of Black Catholic Ministry being canceled or postponed, A’Vant-Deishinni has found ways to organize events to help carry out the Ministry’s mission, including holding retreats and prayer services during Black History Month and Martin Luther King Jr. Day. The Office of Black Catholic Ministry is also planning on sending official representatives of the diocese to the National Black Congress in Washington, D.C., in June.
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