NIAGARA FALLS – W. Lee Whitaker, a member of the Niagara Falls Human Rights Commission and the NFC Corp., the city’s lending arm, will be given a civil rights achievement award at this year’s community celebration of the legacy of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., sponsored by the city school district.

The gathering starts at 6 p.m. Thursday in Niagara Falls High School, 4455 Porter Road.

Whitaker’s award is one of three that will be presented during the program honoring King, the civil rights leader slain April 4, 1968, by an assassin’s bullet in Memphis, Tenn., where he had gone to lead a peaceful march in support of striking sanitation workers.

A Spirit of Dr. King Award will be presented to Joanne Lorenzo and the Magdalene Project, and a youth civil rights achievement award will be given to LaSharee Wallace, a Niagara Falls High School senior who was chosen from among nominees suggested by the school community.

Whitaker is a certified public housing manager, occupancy specialist and domestic violence prevention instructor. She has been a member of the Niagara Falls Chapter of The Links Inc. for several years, implementing numerous educational and cultural enrichment programs as chairwoman of the Links’ Youth Committee.

Lorenzo is the founder of the Magdalene Project, a faith-based outreach ministry serving people whose lives have been damaged by drugs, alcohol, domestic abuse or prostitution. The project includes street, children’s and prison ministries, as well as back-to-school and holiday help for those in need.

Wallace has volunteered at Community Missions and the Schoellkopf Nursing Home. She teaches Spanish to young students and organized a community event at the Doris W. Jones Family Resource Center in connection with the death of Zenobia Williams, 76, who was killed in December when she was struck by a hit-and-run vehicle on Niagara Falls Boulevard.

The Rev. Craig Pridgen – pastor of True Bethel Baptist Church and son of Buffalo Common Council member and Pastor Darius Pridgen – will be keynote speaker at Thursday’s program.

Music will be provided by the Niagara Falls Housing Authority Youth Choir under the direction of Diana M. Reeves, and by Reign, a popular musical guest. Ren Feagin, a graphic artist, will display photo collages with images of King.

The program, called “Building Friendships for Today and Tomorrow,” is free and open to the public. It is sponsored annually by the district and several co-sponsors.