Dr. Wilma Wooten
Dr. Wilma Wooten. Photo courtesy County News Center

The YMCA of San Diego County will host its annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Human Dignity Award virtually Thursday, honoring Dr. Wilma Wooten, the county’s public health officer, for her efforts to promote a science-based response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The award ceremony — usually held as a breakfast event — will instead begin at 6 p.m. Thursday.

The Human Dignity Award is given annually to a person who “exemplifies the work and character of Dr. King.” According to the YMCA, past honorees encompass outstanding qualities of volunteerism, philanthropy and activism in the San Diego community.

“We’re excited to continue doing our part to maintain a healthy community by moving our event to a virtual platform this year,” said Anna Arancibia with the Jackie Robinson Family YMCA in Southeastern San Diego. “By going virtual, we’re able to extend an invitation to more San Diegans so they too can feel the magic of this celebration and honor Dr. King’s life and work.”

King’s words and actions continue to be an inspiration and call-to- action for tolerance and peace with each new generation, Arancibia said. This event not only memorializes and celebrates Dr. King, it recognizes community leaders of the past, present and future, including Wooten, this year’s Human Dignity Award winner.

“Throughout the COVID-19 crisis, Dr. Wooten has exemplified what it means to be a person of courage and moral strength by providing clear, science- based directives to county leaders that prioritize the health of San Diegans,” a statement from the YMCA reads. “She has stood firm in advocating for best practices in wearing masks, washing hands, staying six feet apart and avoiding being indoors with non-household members.”

Wooten was also named 2020 San Diegan of the Year by the San Diego Union-Tribune.

She has been with the county Health and Human Services Agency since 2001, initially serving as deputy health officer, and has been the public health officer since 2007. Trained in family medicine, public health and preventive medicine, she has oversight for almost 500 employees and a budget of more than $100 million, serving a county of 3.1 million residents.

“Dr. Wooten is an ardent supporter of public health and throughout her life, she has broken barriers and served as a role model for young people, especially African American girls, who wish to pursue a career in medicine and science,” the statement reads.

“Dr. Wooten has been a strong leader for our community, not only during the pandemic but for years prior,” said Baron Herdelin-Doherty, president and CEO of the YMCA of San Diego County. “She exemplifies the work and character of Dr. King and the YMCA couldn’t imagine presenting the 2021 Human Dignity Award to anyone else but Dr. Wooten.”

The event will also feature keynote speaker Assemblywoman Dr. Shirley Weber, D-San Diego. Weber was elected in November 2012 to represent California’s 79th Assembly District. Most recently, she was nominated as California’s next Secretary of State.

Additional entertainment during the virtual event will feature the Buffalo Soldiers presenting the colors, the iconic MLK Choir, singer Rebecca Jade and the youth essay winner to help illustrate the impact King has had on young lives.

To register and/or donate, visit www.ymcasd.org/mlk. All proceeds benefit the Jackie Robinson Family YMCA.

— City News Service

Chris Jennewein is Editor & Publisher of Times of San Diego.