In observance of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day, no classes are scheduled and employees will have a holiday, Monday, Jan. 18. A virtual celebration and more will be planned.

Celebrate King Day virtually with 2021 presentation: ‘Hope, Inspire, Believe’

Focusing on the future with a Jackson business leader while honoring a local musical legend, Jackson College will commemorate the birthday of civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. with a virtual celebration. The event will be at 6 p.m. Monday, Jan. 18, 2021.

“The Jackson College 2021 MLK Celebration will be a virtual experience, but we are committed to producing a ‘Class A’ celebration like Jackson College has done for the past 20 years!” said Vice President of Diversity, Equity and Belonging Lee Hampton.

Keynote Speaker


The theme for this year’s event will be “Hope, Inspire, Believe.” Keynote speaker Rejji Hayes will offer words of inspiration for the evening, “Dr. King’s Dream for Today.” Hayes is executive vice president and chief financial officer for CMS Energy and Consumers Energy, serving in this position since 2017. He joined CMS Energy from ITC Holdings Corp., a regulated electric transmission utility, beginning as vice president, finance and treasurer in 2012 before serving as chief financial officer from 2014-‘16. Hayes has also held strategy and financial leadership roles for Exelon Corporation, Lazard Freres & Co., Banc of America Securities and Merrill Lynch.

In addition to his professional experience, he serves on the board of the Detroit Zoological Society, the Michigan Chamber of Commerce and the Cranbrook Educational Community. Hayes also serves as executive sponsor of the Minority Advisory Panel, one of CMS Energy’s large employee resource groups. He holds a master’s degree in business administration from Harvard Business School and a bachelor’s degree from Amherst College.

2021 Medal of Service 

Benny Poole

The 2021 Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Medal of Service will be presented posthumously to Benny Poole, who passed away in December. Poole was a lifelong musician who continued to play and entertain with his beloved saxophone into his 90s.

“The 2021 MLK Medal of Service Award winner Mr. Benny Poole was a Jackson legend who committed himself to making the dream of Dr. Martin Luther King come to fruition in our Jackson community,” Hampton said. “He wanted everyone not to be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character. His dream was for Jacksonians to all work together, and it didn’t matter if you were black or white or Hispanic or any other ethnic group. Benny Poole was a bridge builder unparalleled!!!”

He fell in love with music at a young age while listening to his mother play the piano. After hearing Benny Goodman band member Wardell Gray play the saxophone, he was hooked. He purchased a saxophone book and read through it before he even had a horn. When he did get an instrument, he put together a big band of local musicians. The band went on a small tour of Michigan, Indiana and Ohio, which later narrowed down to an eight-piece band and then a jazz quartet that performed for many years. Poole helped several other musicians build their careers and took pride in bringing musicians to Jackson.

In 1967, he recorded a single “Pearl Baby Pearl” and “Sorry ‘Bout That” that went to No. 12 on the R&B charts. Poole’s single was on the charts at the same time as Motown greats like Stevie Wonder, Aretha Franklin, Marvin Gaye and others. While Benny had many opportunities to pursue his own career beyond his hometown of Jackson, caring for his family took top priority. He also worked as an automotive salesman and was the first African-American car salesman in Jackson, “Jackson Chrysler Salesman of the Year” for 1969.

Poole was recognized for his music many times, receiving a Certificate of Appreciation from the City of Jackson in 1993, recognition from four Jackson mayors for Lifetime Community Contributions, playing for four Michigan governors, the State of Michigan Special Tribute for Lifetime Musical Contributions in 2008, performing for the Governor of Acapulco, and lending his talents to many charity and benefit concerts. He performed for Jackson College’s Juneteenth Celebrations and Black History Month events, and always gave back to his community. In June 2020, local artist Evan Struck completed a mural of Benny Poole on the Nite Lite building in downtown Jackson.

Virtual King Day Celebration 

Tune in via Zoom to the 2021 event; this is free and all community members are welcome. A Zoom link will be provided a week before the event.