Champaign Countywide celebration of MLK focuses on unity

Bishop Kenneth C. Ulmer, left, and State Representative Naomi Jakobsson, center, speak with Imani Weibel, 8, and her mother Sue Feldman after the 2009 Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Countywide Celebration on Friday in Champaign. Ulmer, a University gradu Erica Magda

Bishop Kenneth C. Ulmer, left, and State Representative Naomi Jakobsson, center, speak with Imani Weibel, 8, and her mother Sue Feldman after the 2009 Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Countywide Celebration on Friday in Champaign. Ulmer, a University gradu Erica Magda

By Grace Rebekah Kenney

At the Eighth Annual Countywide Celebration of the life of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., the message of unity was alive and well.

A collaborative effort on the parts of Champaign, Urbana and Champaign County, the celebration highlighted the work of King and continued his message of peace, equality and the brotherhood of all humanity.

Some of those who attended said that this year’s Martin Luther King Jr. Day has a particular relevance, with the inauguration of the United States’ first black president falling on the following day.

Evelyn Burnett Underwood said she has been a staunch civil rights supporter her entire life. Underwood recalled early days on a Mississippi plantation, the daughter of sharecroppers.

“I lived where there were separate bathrooms,” Underwood said.

Today, her life is drastically different, a holder of five university degrees and a leader in the community. Underwood acknowledged the inspirational life of King and noted how drastically things have changed since she was young.

Ashley Herrington, a part-time employee at the University, sees a definite connection between this year’s celebration of King’s life and work and President-elect Barack Obama’s inauguration.

“Martin Luther King was our first voice,” Herrington said. “If it wasn’t for Martin Luther King, Barack Obama probably wouldn’t be influenced to do what he did.”

Not only have Americans on the whole been affected, but those outside the United States have been inspired as well.

Teresa Kang, a pianist from Korea who performed at the event and graduate student, said that when she was in Korea, she knew of King.

“Living here, it’s a totally different dynamic,” Kang said.

Kang said she sees some parallels between the American civil rights movement and Korea’s current conflict with North Korea. Kang was inspired by the words of the event’s keynote speaker, Bishop Kenneth C. Ulmer, in that one doesn’t have to agree on everything to be unified. Kang said that one thing she’ll be taking away from the celebration is the idea that “being different can be good,” and that she has hope for the future of her own country.

Although many of the audience members lived during the civil rights movement, younger community members attended as well. Crofton Coleman, a student at St. Thomas More High School in Champaign, said that although not involved in the civil rights movement, he still felt the effects of King’s life.

“He paved the way for all different kinds of people,” Coleman said.

Ulmer’s keynote message about unity despite diversity motivated audience members to continue applying King’s message within their own community.

“It’s a historical event for the African-American race and it’s a big change for this generation,” Herrington said.

“But any race can make it, not just African-Americans.”