News-Gazette Clippings on Martin Luther King, Jr., Celebration, 2005

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News-Gazette Clippings on Martin Luther King, Jr., Celebration, 2005

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MLK

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Article 1: King's legacy: 'It belongs to all of us'

Parkland Community College President Zelema Harris talked of it in her Martin Luther King Jr. Day speech Friday at Urbana's Holiday Inn.

University High School counselor Sam Smith saw it in the planning for University of Illinois' weeklong celebration of the civil rights leader.

"It" is the fact that King's message is universal, that the celebration is more than just for black Americans and, at least on good days, that it seems some people are beginning to get it.

"It may seem like a small thing," said Smith. "But there's a group of us who've been working together over months on planning to celebrate this common vision. It's whites, blacks, Latinos, Asians, and nobody's holding this up as just a black holiday or an African-American experience. The focus is on social justice and inclusiveness and how to make the circle bigger."

The UI's celebration next week includes the Chinese Scholars and Student Association Ethnic Dance Group, an American Indian storyteller, the South Asian dance group Raas, the Sancocho Music and Dance Collage of Indianapolis and a Korean movie titled "If You Were Me."

The Urbana Rotary this year again has reached out to involve young people, young white people, in its own celebration that includes singing by a joint choir from Urbana High School and Mahomet-Seymour High School on Monday at the Illinois Street Residence Hall.

Last Friday, Parkland's Harris said that as strong as King's message, actions and influence were, over time that message has been both sanitized and reduced to a lesson about civil rights, when what he taught was an even more courageous and bold lesson about the eradication of pain and poverty for all of mankind.

"Many people have been uplifted by civil rights. I have been uplifted by the civil rights movement. The challenge is not to forget those whose plights are still with us. Poverty is still with us. Crime is still with us. The work is not over," Harris said.

One doesn't have to go far to find a black person who feels their life was changed directly or indirectly by King. Whether it's opportunity, affirmative action, a new way of thinking about things, about people and their worth, the impact of King and the civil rights movement is ubiquitous. For many, their future is not assigned to them. There is a degree of self-determination and choice that did not exist before. It's not coincidence that King's portrait is a staple in many black homes. It is a portrait, a visage and a message, Harris and Smith suggested, that belongs in all homes.

It was a King scholarship that went to Sherrika Ellison in 1999 that helped enable the Urbana High School graduate to enter the University of Illinois, where she flourished, making the dean's list, serving on the Illini Union Board, participating in the Peer Recruitment program and now working on her master's degree.

A singer, Ellison also won a regional competition that had her in New York City with her mom, Pam Ellison, competing – and winning – at Harlem's famed Apollo Theater's amateur night last Wednesday.

"Martin Luther King definitely opened up opportunities for me," Ellison said. "The whole movement opened doors that weren't open before."

Sam Smith's home was also one with a King portrait prominently displayed, along with one of John F. Kennedy. His parents were sharecroppers in South Carolina. They moved to New York City in the late 1960s. Smith was 11.

"We moved for opportunity and to escape racism. Certainly my life would have been far different had it not been for King and the civil rights movement," Smith said. "In New York, I grew up in an area with many ethnic influences, and I was quite comfortable in that. Living here, I sometimes think the country is more polarized around issues of race. There's a lot more opportunity, a lot less overt racism. But structurally, where we live and where we interact with each other, we're still so segregated."

Martel Miller has deliberately placed himself in the eye of the storm of racial controversy by challenging the Champaign Police Department's treatment of young black men. The group he helped organize with Patrick Thompson filmed local police stops, produced a videotape last year that was shown in the Champaign Public Library, Boardman's Art Theatre and other places, and he and Thompson were arrested and charged with eavesdropping before pressure from the public and the Champaign city administration resulted in the charges being dropped.

Miller, a Champaign product, keeps a keen eye on this notion of civil rights for all in the community in which he grew up. Miller remembers being bused to schools every day on the west side of town, not liking it, and not liking being told that the way he talked wasn't proper English. He remembers driving with convoys of family to visit relatives in Mississippi and knowing the towns it was good to avoid, and knowing that they drove in a convoy for safety.

"Things you live with," he said. "It is better here now. I can say that. I don't want to say anything too negative, but we've got a long way to go," he said.

"I'd like to see us do things differently, try things differently in the schools, in how we relate to young people, involve different people and the whole community. The black leaders you see aren't always synonymous with the black community. Maybe it's time to pass the torch to different people."

The Rev. Eugene Barnes says amen to that. Barnes runs the Metanoia Center, a faith-based community improvement project out of the Bristol Place neighborhood in north Champaign. Barnes said progress toward King's dream requires individual decisions, as King preached, to purify oneself and purge the hate before direct action can produce results.

As a young man growing up in Waukegan, Barnes said, he was taught in church and in the NAACP about nonviolent protest and direct action to move the institutional mountains standing in the way of progress. That work occurs in Champaign-Urbana and the other Central Illinois communities, where demonstrations at banks by Metanoia and affiliated organizations have been instrumental in improving lending practices.

"We do see progress," he said. "What I continue to see, however, is the great failure of white America to love people of color. So what I'm doing now is remembering my teaching. There's nothing extraordinary in it. As I look down the road, and you ask have we entered the dream, it's not a right-now thing. It's a journey, a collective journey we're on."

Von Young has spent much of that journey in Champaign, where he joined the Champaign Police Department in 1974 and later became its first black lieutenant. In 2002, he became police chief at Parkland. Would that have occurred if not for King, if not for the fact the college had a black president?

"I have no way of knowing that," he said, adding that at the time of the search, finalists included another black man and a woman.

"There was commitment to diversity," he said.

Young is a chief in a town where the chiefs of police in Urbana and at the University of Illinois are also black, where his former department recently reversed a decision on the purchase of Tasers because of resistance from the black community.

"There was a lot more racial tension in 1974. You couldn't have said those things then. That (progress) comes from the city council, The News-Gazette, institutions and people in the community addressing those problems. We still have problems, but Champaign-Urbana is moving in the right direction."

Smith, the counselor, said the inclusive nature of the 2005 celebration is testament to that direction.

"The folks I've been involved with make me feel hopeful. For my money, this is something that belongs to all of us. That's what King was talking about."

Area events scheduled to mark King's birthdayHere are events scheduled to mark the birth of Martin Luther King Jr.:

– Today, 5 p.m.: The Rev. Ben Cox, a freedom rider with King's civil rights crusade, will speak in the Great Hall at Krannert Center for the Performing Arts with music by the Community Interracial/Interdenominational Choir.

– Monday, 8:30 a.m.: Prayer breakfast, Canaan Academy, 207 N. Central Ave., U. Rayco Terry, King Scholar and Chicago Public Schools teacher, speaker.

– Tuesday, 7:30 p.m.: Keith Beauchamp, director of "The Untold Story of Emmett Louis Till" will present his film. Virginia Theatre, 203 W. Park St., C.

– Thursday, 7:30 p.m.: The film "Injustice," Room 101, Armory Building, 505 E. Armory Ave., C.

– Saturday, 2 to 5 p.m.: "Stories of Our People," Krannert Center for the Performing Arts, 500 S. Goodwin Ave., U.

Performers include Champaign storyteller Dawn Blackman; the presentation of Martin Luther King Jr. Essay Contest winners from local middle and high schools; the Protege Dance Group of Champaign; Chinese Scholars and Student Association Ethnic Dance Group; Larry Lockwood, an American Indian storyteller from Chicago; the UI Raas Team, a South Asian dance group; and the Sancocho Music and Dance Collage of Indianapolis.

– Jan. 25, 7:30 p.m.: The movie "Bread and Roses," Room 101, Armory Building.

– Jan. 26, 7 p.m.: Illini Room C and the South Lounge, Illini Union, 1401 W. Green St., U, a student and faculty discussion: "Diverse Perspectives on Campus and in America: Finding and Exercising Your Voice."

The panel will debate issues, including the supposed liberal domination of academia, racial discrimination, religious intolerance, gender inequality and sexual orientation.

– Jan. 27, 7:30 p.m.: The movie, "If You Were Me," in Korean with English subtitles, Room 101, Armory Building.

You can reach News-Gazette staff writer J. Philip Bloomer at (217) 351-5371 or via e-mail at pbloomer@news-gazette.com.

Article 2:
Speaker: There's more to King Jr.'s legacy

Sat, 01/15/2005 - 3:00pm | J. Philip Bloomer

URBANA – Zelema Harris confessed Friday that after more than 40 years since she first heard Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. speak, she remains spellbound by his oratory, yet torn about the influence his words and actions have had.

The ambivalence arises from the selectivity and sanitization with which society has treated his message, and the pain and disappointment his words force her to relive.

Harris, president of Parkland College, was the keynote speaker at Friday's King Day celebration, put on by the cities of Champaign and Urbana and the Champaign County Board.

Harris acknowledged she wouldn't be there had it not been for King. Before him, before the civil rights movement, she was just another little black girl growing up in east Texas afraid of white people.

It was not a typical speech for a college president, appearing in the grand ballroom of the Holiday Inn Conference Center before several hundred people, including dozens of elected and appointed officials in the county. It lacked flowery prose and intellectual posturing but abounded in intellectual observation honed by personal experience.

"I understood what it meant to be a second-class citizen and walk in fear of whites. I understood because it was my daily life," she said.

When a sheriff's car would approach, "black children knew instinctively to run and hide," she said. She told of her mother having her stand on a piece of paper to outline her feet, so her mother could take it to the store for new shoes.

"Blacks were not allowed to try on shoes," she said.

She told of getting in trouble for drinking from the white water fountain at the local A&P grocery store.

"At 9 years old, I had broken the law," she said.

And other stories.

While in college, she talked of visiting lunch counters in Beaumont, Texas – counters where blacks weren't supposed to sit. She and her friends spoke in Spanish to trick the owners into thinking they weren't really black.

"The only phrase I knew was 'The donkey was important in Spain and Mexico,' but he didn't know any better and we got served."

Harris said that as she grew into adulthood, so did her ambivalence about the civil rights movement, and her patriotism toward the country that promised so much. Those who were "prepared," Harris said, primarily middle-class blacks, were liberated by the civil rights movement, but that same movement has and still does leave poor, primarily urban blacks behind.

"Dr. King asked in 1968, 'What good is it to be allowed to sit in a restaurant if you can't afford a hamburger?'"

Seldom, she said, when talking about the legacy of King do people talk about his opposition to war, about his advocacy for the impoverished everywhere, or the connection between war and poverty.

Harris said she has little doubt where King would stand on the war in Iraq. The parallels to Vietnam are too obvious.

Before the military buildup in Vietnam, Harris said the United States was making progress on poverty, in the right way, by a hand up and not a handout. Then the resources dissipated, "like some demonic, destructive suction," King said.

The Vietnam War also sent a disproportionate number of poor people and poor blacks "to fight for liberties in Southeast Asia when they had yet to find them in southwest Georgia," Harris quoted King as saying.

"Dr. King loved this nation and what it could become," Harris said. "We owe it to him to respect the totality of his work." Harris said that as King did, and as an educator herself, she has great optimism for our country and community. In particular she cited success of mentoring programs, of the Urban League, of Rotary clubs and churches and appealed to the audience to take ownership of the future in the visioning process that has just been undertaken at the county level.

"There is within each of us the capacity to help others. We have this in our hearts. We must feel the fire in each of us," Harris said.

You can reach News-Gazette staff writer J. Philip Bloomer at (217) 351-5371 or via e-mail at pbloomer@news-gazette.com.

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J. Philip Bloomer

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News-Gazette

Date

2005

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J. Philip Bloomer, “News-Gazette Clippings on Martin Luther King, Jr., Celebration, 2005,” eBlack Champaign-Urbana, accessed April 23, 2019, http://eblackcu.net/portal/items/show/250.

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