Champaign County honors MLK

By Alyssa Etier

Champaign County’s Martin Luther King Jr. celebration week began Friday night with a “Beyond the Dream” commemoration at the Holiday Inn, 1001 Killarney St., in Urbana. This year marks the 21st national holiday in honor of King and the 77th anniversary of his birth.

“I think it’s important for us all to look at our lives and say, ‘what did Dr. King do for me?'” said News Channel 15’s Maira Ansari, mistress of ceremony for the event, while addressing the crowd.

Rev. Chester Berryhill, director of the MK Gandhi Institute for Nonviolence, was the commemoration’s keynote speaker for Champaign County’s fifth annual celebration.

Past speakers included Sen. Barrack Obama in 2004. Berryhill reminded the audience of Gandhi and King’s messages of justice and nonviolence.

“Remember the words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.: Human progress never rolls in on wheels of inevitability, it comes through the tireless efforts of men willing to be co-workers with God and without this hard work, time itself becomes an ally of the forces of social stagnation,'” Berryhill said. “Remember the words of Mahatma Gandhi: We must be the change we seek to see in this world.”

To end his speech, Berryhill encouraged everyone to thank King for the legacy he left.

“I’m blessed and fortunate enough to have attended one of (King’s) lectures in 1968,” said Marvin Lacy, president and CEO of Minority Contractors Association of Central Illinois. “It’s always a humbling experience for me.”

A second county event took place Sunday night at the Krannert Center for the Performing Arts, 500 S. Goodwin Ave. Chancellor Richard H. Herman recounted the story of Rosa Parks and the Montgomery bus boycott. A cousin of King, Rev. Joel King Jr., was the featured speaker. He reminded the audience that changes still need to be made more than 40 years after King’s “I have a dream” speech.

“Keep in mind, we can’t afford to let the dream die and we also can’t afford to let it become a nightmare,” Joel King said.

Mayor Laurel Prussing of Urbana, Mayor Jerry Schweighart of Champaign and Champaign County Board member Barbara Wysocki proclaimed Friday to honor King’s legacy. At Friday’s commemoration, community members Tanya Chillis, Nathaniel Banks, Tracy Parsons, Rev. Harold Davis and Judge Ann Einhorn received awards for their dedication to service and civil rights. Recipients of the Martin Luther King Jr. Scholarship, including 13 from the University, were recognized Sunday night.

More events honoring King will continue throughout the week, including a prayer breakfast on Monday and a program on the Tuskegee Airman, black American aviators during World War II who helped lead to integrated armed forces, on Thursday. All are free and open to the public.

“I’m glad that the city does this,” said Carolyn Casteel of Rantoul. “I hope it gives a renewed faith.”