GARY | Karen Freeman-Wilson counts a Harvard law degree, a stint as Indiana attorney general and starting the state's first drug treatment court among her many accomplishments.
Yet she found it daunting to learn this year she'd been nominated for the Gary Frontiers Service Club's annual Drum Major award.
"It's certainly humbling to be considered for anything associated with Dr. King," Freeman-Wilson said. "He stands before us as a national icon, and when I look at him and even at the people who have been lauded as drum majors in the past, it's very humbling."
Freeman-Wilson, of Gary, is one of seven nominees, called "marchers," for the award named for the "Drum Major Instinct" sermon delivered by King two months before his death.
Marchers are recognized for having dedicated their lives to improving the human condition, as King urged in the sermon.
A history of service to the public likely helped win her the nomination, said Freeman-Wilson, who has a law practice in Gary.
"I think it's related to the fact I've been fortunate to hold a number of positions that have held a lot of responsibility in terms of public service, and my willingness to be innovative in those roles," she said.
She initiated the state's first drug treatment court - where qualified offenders are given the option to receive treatment instead of a jail sentence - while serving as Gary city judge from 1994 to 2000.
"It's a way to look at justice in a different way," she said. "We still hold folks accountable, but in a different way."
Freeman-Wilson was state attorney general from 2000 to 2001. She had been appointed to the post by Gov. Frank O'Bannon to serve the remaining 11 months of the term of predecessor Jeff Modisett. He had resigned to become general counsel to the 2000 Democratic National Convention in Los Angeles. She lost an election for the office to Republican Steve Carter.
Harvard, where she graduated with a bachelor's degree in 1982 and law school degree in 1985, hadn't been her first choice, she said. Initially focused on Kettering University in Flint, Mich., she quickly realized engineering wasn't for her.
Notre Dame in nearby South Bend seemed a likely second choice over Harvard, in Cambridge, Mass.
"I didn't want to go that far away from home," Freeman-Wilson said.
Harvard ultimately won her over. "And I learned the significance of being there," Freeman-Wilson said.