King’s message reaches community

Illinois music professor Ollie Watts Davis leads the Black Choir during practice at Krannert on Wednesday evening. Erica Magda

Illinois music professor Ollie Watts Davis leads the Black Choir during practice at Krannert on Wednesday evening. Erica Magda

By Hannah Hess

As his 79th birthday approaches, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. is still making headlines. In the national spotlight, presidential candidates adopt King’s dreams as an opportune campaign strategy. The local organizers of the Martin Luther King Jr. Commemorative Symposium, however, embrace his vision year-round, with their motto, “Passing it on! Lending a Voice, Sharing the Vision!”

“In today’s society Martin Luther King Jr.’s message is more relevant, more needed, than ever,” said Nathaniel Banks, the group’s co-chair. “Dr. King was able to embrace social justice issues from a standpoint of respecting even his oppressors.”

The symposium uses their Web site to provide a central source of information about all community events related to the Martin Luther King, Jr. commemoration so that all students, community members, staff and faculty can take part in the wide range of activities and events planned. All admissions are free and open to the public.

Another organizer, Poshek Fu, credits former University professor Todd Shaw with establishing the celebration.

“He was first beginning to build up the ethnic studies program and asked to start an event in observance of Dr. King’s work,” Fu, a professor in history, said. “The main focus then was on academic development.”

This year’s official celebration is much broader. Friday’s Countywide Day of Celebration, themed “Transforming Our Communities Through Peace and Justice,” kicks off the holiday. At 4 p.m., Joyce Tucker, vice president of global diversity and employee rights for the Boeing Corporation, will give a keynote address at the Hilton Garden Inn, 1501 S. Neil St., Champaign.

The voices of the University of Illinois Black Chorus will also be featured, under the direction of conductor Ollie Watts Davis.

“In her openness, caring and concern for others, she embodies King,” said committee member and professor Vernon Burton, describing Davis. “She also lives out her faith as he did,”

Community celebrations will continue at 5 p.m. Sunday in the Great Hall at Krannert Center for the Performing Arts. Rev. Joseph Brown, director of Black American Studies at Southern Illinois University Carbondale, will deliver an address.

The political elements of King’s campaign for nonviolent resistance will be the focus on Thursday Jan. 24. Students are invited to 112 Gregory Hall for “Voteless People are a Hopeless People,” an event that returns to the symposium’s academic roots.

“We hope to bring to the attention of the campus the need to take voting issues seriously since we are in a time of primary season,” Banks said. He added that representatives from major political parties and minority groups would be in attendance with the intent of encouraging students to vote.

“Dr. King held a commitment to all that there was the need to act (and) to make changes in order to bring about the dream of a true democracy,” Fu said.

Organizers of the symposium also support the efforts of other social justice organizations on campus, including Inclusive Illinois and the Center on Democracy in a Multiracial Society, which both operate year-round.

“We like to use the King celebration as a reflection,” Banks said. “It gives us a purpose to engender dialogue with the goal of creating a sense of ‘beloved community.'”

The best example of beloved community and the culmination of Martin Luther King Jr. memorial observances will be from 2-4:30 p.m. on Saturday, Jan. 26. at the Krannert Center for the Performing Arts. The center will open its lobby for a family friendly community event with a diverse array of dancers and entertainers.

Omnimov Dancers, Mo Better Music ensemble, UIUC Raas Team, UC Hip Hop and Djibril Camara and the Maragiri Drum and Dance Group will all perform. Cultural storytellers and the local winners of the Martin Luther King Jr. essay contest will present.

“The inclusive, diverse program gives a picture of how much of King’s dream has been achieved and how much more we need to do,” Fu said.