On Jan. 18, the 2021 Great Lakes Bay Regional MLK Celebration Drum Major Awards were announced, honoring individuals for their community service.
This year, the award was given to three individuals: Charles Brunner, a former state legislator from Bay County; Frances Elnora Carter, an educator from Saginaw County; and Diane Brown Wilhelm, a public servant from Midland County.
Wilhelm, a member of the Midland City Council, legislative director for the City of Midland and executive for Accenture, was recognized for her work with the Midland City Council, Michigan Municipal League, Accenture, Midland’s Shelterhouse and Mid-Michigan Community Family Ministries.
She expressed gratitude in being honored with the award and referenced MLK’s quote, “Faith is taking the first step even when you don’t see the whole staircase.”
“Receiving the MLK Drum Major Award is an honor, and thinking about my journey, there have been many first steps taken without seeing the whole staircase,” Wilhelm said. “It seems to be a trend for me. My hope is that each step taken will lead to positive change, not only for today but the future.”
Wilhelm explained that her interest in public service began after a debate in graduate school.
“After class, my professor asked what were my plans upon graduation as I did well during the debate defending my case and position,” Wilhelm said. “I had no plan, and he encouraged me to figure it out and pursue it.”
Shortly after this, Wilhelm saw an opportunity: an opening on the planning commission.
“Replaying the discussion with my professor, I decided to apply, knowing I did not have any experience but I was willing to learn,” Wilhelm said. “I was shocked when I received a call to come in for an interview. Two weeks after the interview, I was notified [that the] City Council approved my appointment to the planning commission.”
During Wilhelm’s fifth year serving as Chair on the Planning Commission, the Council- man representing her Ward announced that he would not be running for re-election. Wilhelm then began to receive calls asking about her interest in a council position.
“After discussions with a few trusted friends and mentors, I decided to run for Council,” Wilhelm said. “Once again, I had no experience but was willing to learn. I always find it amazing how opportunities present themselves and doors open when you least expect it.”
Wilhelm was appointed to the Council in August 2011. She ran unopposed and went on to win the election later that year in November. She has been serving on the Council for the past 10 years.
Wilhelm said she believes community service is about using your gifts and talents to give back to others.
“You may be the person that gives hope to someone feeling hopeless,” she said.
Wilhelm encouraged others to lift their communities through love.
“[When you love someone,] you value that person and the relationship,” Wilhelm said. “In the midst of your differences, you seek to understand and find a way to walk together side by side. When there is injustice, you defend, stand up for what is right and support that person. When you love, hearts change.”
She recommended that everyone engage in community service through volunteering, donating resources and partnering with non-profits.
“Look around you community — where is help needed?” Wilhelm said. “What tugs at your heart when you see it or encounter it? What are you passionate about? As we have been in the midst of the pandemic for almost a year, there are needs across our communities and opportunities to help.”
Wilhelm used the story of her journey to help others step outside their comfort zones and try new things.
“Take the first step of faith even when you can’t see the whole staircase,” Wilhelm said. “You will make a difference.”