MLK Luncheon Honors Social Justice Activists in Bloomington-Normal | Local News
BLOOMINGTON — Several students and community members were honored Saturday at the 46th annual Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Awards Luncheon.
Hosted by the Bloomington and Normal Human Relations Commissions, the virtual event recognized five individuals who reflect the civil rights leader’s ideology.
The lunch was scheduled for what would have been MLK’s 93rd birthday.
The Reverend Dr. Brigitte Black of Bloomington, Michelle Cook of Normal and Youth Award winners Raji More of Bloomington, Erica Rosenberger of Normal and Cana Brooks, also of Normal, were honoured.
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Bloomington Mayor Mboka Mwilambwe and Normal Mayor Chris Koos delivered keynote addresses to participants in a video message, congratulating the winners.
Mwilambwe said it was an honor to continue the tradition of celebrating MLK’s legacy.
“So much is possible when we unite, dream and build together,” he said. “The works of this year’s winners are the perfect example.”
Bloomington’s mayor said there was still work to be done, “but we will get there”.
“Let us carry Dr. King’s legacy into the future as we pursue access to equity and justice.
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Koos said King’s work centers on courage, understanding, justice, education, inclusion and service. He said these values are shared by the twin cities. And in more than two decades as mayor, he said he’s seen communities change to embrace diversity.
Speaking for just over 30 minutes in his opening remarks, Tony Waller, vice president of voter relations and racial equity for Walmart, told stories about MLK’s justice work social and activism.
He said MLK’s birthday is a time to look back. Specifically, he pointed to a date in 1944 which Waller said was lost to history, but which changed the course of events forever.
Waller said a bus traveling through Georgia was nearly empty except for its driver and two black high school students with a teacher, also black. They were returning to Atlanta after a public speaking contest in Dublin. The boys were seated at the front of the bus – Waller said the driver didn’t bother to enforce seat separation rules at first.
But when they got to Macon, Waller said the racial dynamics changed. Many white passengers boarded and the driver asked the boys to give up their seats. They refused.
Waller said one of the boys had just given a speech about equal rights. Although he didn’t win the contest, Waller said the teenager was determined to overcome this test of willpower.
Fearing for their safety, the teacher begged the boys to leave. Waller said they reluctantly got up and were forced to stand in the bus aisle for the 90-mile trip to Atlanta, feeling helpless and humiliated.
He said one of the students was the 15-year-old son of a minister, who would later be known as Dr King.
Waller said, “It was a 15-year-old boy’s first head-on collision with institutionalized racism, and it was the start of his resolve to spend his life working for social justice.”
Contact Brendan Denison at (309) 820-3238. Follow Brendan Denison on Twitter: @BrendanDenison