Pleasanton set for 20th annual Martin Luther King Jr. Fellowship Breakfast | News | |


Pleasanton set for 20th annual Martin Luther King Jr. Fellowship Breakfast

Local volunteers will be honored at milestone event on Jan. 27

The Pleasanton Community of Character Collaborative (PCCC) will commemorate the 20th annual Martin Luther King Jr. Fellowship Breakfast next Monday.

King, who was assassinated in Memphis on April 4, 1968, is etched into world history as one of the most influential American civil rights leaders. This year marks two decades since the first fellowship breakfast was held in Pleasanton, and what would have been the Nobel Peace Prize recipient’s 91st birthday.

The event is one way that the Pleasanton community remembers and honors his legacy every year. This year’s breakfast is inspired by the King quote, “Never, never be afraid to do what’s right, especially if the well‐being of a person or animal is at stake. Society’s punishments are small compared to the wounds we inflict on our soul when we look the other way.”

The annual breakfast will take place on Jan. 27 (one week after the Martin Luther King Jr. Day national holiday) from 7:30-9:30 a.m. at the DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel, Pleasanton at The Club (7050 Johnson Drive).

The Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Legacy Awards will be presented, and Tri-Valley Haven will also receive a special honor at the event. Pleasanton’s recently appointed teen poet laureate Kanchan Naik will provide a reading.

A keynote speech will also be given by Kym Johnson, executive director of BANANAS, Inc., an early care and education organization that supports families and child care providers. Johnson, who is also on the executive committee of the Oakland Starting Smart and Strong Initiative, a 10-year effort committed to creating universal access to early learning, will speak about care and compassion in local communities.

Following a successful career in business development management, Johnson switched gears and joined the nonprofit sector 10 years ago. Since then Johnson has sat on a number of advisory boards and is currently a member of the Advisory Council of LeaderSpring Center, Oakland Rotary No. 3, and the Oakland Chamber of Commerce.

Johnson has several degrees including a bachelor’s in marketing from San Francisco State University, an MBA from the University of San Francisco, and a nonprofit management certification from CSU East Bay. A native of Bronx, New York, Johnson has long called Oakland her “adopted hometown” and is the proud parent of a Fulbright scholar who works on social justice issues in the Bay Area.

For their contributions, Jeffery and Danielle Pennewell of Livermore and SideTrack Bar + Grill owner Todd Utikal of Pleasanton all will receive the 2020 Martin Luther King Jr. Legacy Award.

The Pennewells “are changing the world one kind word at a time” through their project Words Matter, according to event organizers, which “was designed to show students the power of their words — good and bad — and how a small act of kindness can have a positive impact on someone's day.”

Words Matter was conceived as part of a “Choose love” curriculum in Jeffery Pennewell’s fifth-grade Spanish dual immersion class at Junction Avenue K-8 School. Students decorated small cards with motivation quotes and kind comments, then Jeffery and Danielle handed them out in Union Square in San Francisco. The reactions of some of the recipients were recorded “ in order to show the kids the impact of their work.”

Jeffery Pennewell holds bachelor’s degrees in political science and history, and a Masters of Public Policy and Administration from Baylor University. He is one of 22 black non-Hispanic teachers with a bilingual credential at Junction Avenue, and is the creator of Calculus of an Inspired Student, a mathematical model which uses key factors that contribute to a student’s involvement and motivation to take control of their academic success.

Danielle Pennewell is a life coach and human relations professional with a degree in economics and mathematics, and an MBA from UCLA’s Anderson School of Management. She is the founder of Core Connection, a newly formed equine coaching program that helps “develop emotional intelligence and identify growth opportunities for all individuals and teams,” and is vice chair on the board of the Community Tech Network.

Utikal, a longtime Pleasanton resident and business owner, will also be recognized that day. Organizers said Utikal “is always giving back” through his volunteer work with a number of nonprofits.

The Tri-Valley native has a business and accounting degree from Saint Mary’s College and a diverse professional background; Utikal has worked in the real estate, hospitality and service sectors, briefly wrote comedy for a show in Las Vegas, and ran his own travel business before opening SideTrack Bar + Grill several years ago in downtown Pleasanton.

For the past decade, Utikal has been an active volunteer in the Rotary Club of Pleasanton, and raised through his business more than $25,000 for local charities last year.

As a "highly respected nonprofit leader in the Tri-Valley,” Ann King, executive director of Tri-Valley Haven, and the organization itself will also receive a special honor at the fellowship breakfast.

Raised in a traditional Irish Catholic family in the Midwest, King has made “the effort to end violence” against women her life’s work for more than 40 years. With a master’s in social work, King has held several service and leadership positions over the past few decades.

Tri-Valley Haven has been considered “an essential component of the safety net for families in need in the Tri-Valley” for the past four decades, focusing on serving adults and children who have been victims of sexual assault, domestic violence or homelessness.

“They are a safe place, above all, for people who need to be protected before they can begin moving forward,” award organizers said in a statement. “But they are also a place that is committed to doing more than merely healing a life that's hurting; they are committed to helping strengthen that life, and building a culture of personal empowerment for those who are most vulnerable.”

Tickets to the Jan. 27 fellowship breakfast are $40 per person while supplies last. To register online, visit

Julia Baum is a staff writer for the Pleasanton Weekly. Reach her at or 925-600-0840, ext. 111.

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