Community celebrates MLK Jr.’s life, legacy

By Lauren Duncan

A skipping CD didn’t stop attendees from singing together “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” the Negro National Anthem, at a celebration where both the birthday of Martin Luther King Jr. and the accomplishments of a local leader were celebrated.

“Building a Legacy” was the theme of the 13th annual Southern Illinois Unity Celebration held at the Carbondale Civic Center Sunday. The event’s focus of carrying out Martin Luther King Jr.’s legacy appeared not only in the musical selections, but in the words spoken by area leaders.

Imam Abdul Haqq of Masjid an-Nur, who began the celebration, spoke about the responsibility he said the community has to carry on King’s legacy.


“I hope, I pray, that the legacy, this building, this trust that we have to this city, this structure, that this year we set about establishing goals, establishing opportunities as in the legacy of Dr. King,” he said. “When we meet next year, how did we live up to that trust?”

Following the welcome from Haqq, Carbondale Mayor Joel Fritzler and Murphysboro Mayor Ron Williams presented the 2012 Spirit of Dr. King Community Service Award to Pastor Rick Jackson.

Jackson started the Feed My Sheep program, a food pantry at Bethel A.M.E., a Carbondale church, and has helped community members in several other ways. Recently, Jackson and his wife Aurelia moved to work at a church in East St. Louis.

“We hope that Carbondale will never forget them and the difference that they have made here,” Williams said.

In the past, the offering collected at the celebration has gone toward the Feed My Sheep program. This year, $1,261.53 was raised from the offering for the Good Samaritan Food Pantry.

While the event included a collection of canned goods and money for the local charity as well as insight from many leaders in the Carbondale area, attendees and volunteers also told of their perceptions of Martin Luther King Jr. and his legacy.

Carolin Harvey, event organizer and volunteer, said she views the leader’s birthday as a time to recognize a man whose main purpose was to unify the community and who tried to ensure all people have availability to equal access.


Lydia Steward of St. Louis, who led the audience in singing “We Shall Overcome” in closing for the celebration, said she thinks attending events in honor of King is important but that January is not the only time he should be remembered.

“Everything that he fought for and stood for, those actions should reflect on us daily, not just the weekend that we celebrate,” she said.

Nichollete Dolin, of Vergennes, who also volunteered at the event with Supporting People In Need, a charity thrift store in Murphysboro, said the group’s goals of helping those who have been affected by both natural and personal disasters tie into the celebration’s theme of carrying on Dr. Martin Luther King’s Legacy.

“I feel that the way they give selflessly and their mission to help people help themselves carries on that legacy,” she said.

Dolin said she thinks of civil rights, service and faith when she hears King’s name.

Bill Sasso, a volunteer and reverend of Carbondale Unitarian Fellowship, said he thinks people in the community can do many things to help work toward what King called the “beloved community.”

“We can find ways to be in harmony with other people in our community,” he said.

Sasso said he would love to see more congregations and groups help to carry on the Feed My Sheep program at Bethel AME church since Pastor Jackson recently left. Another way Sasso said people can come together as a community is to listen to what groups and individuals have to say about their ideas before talking about them.

“I think that’s what Dr. King would be trying to get people to do today,” he said.

Linda Flowers, an attendee, said she doesn’t wait for the holiday each year to commemorate the deeds of King. Through being active in the NAACP and through community service, she said, she is able to give back.

“But unlike Dr. King, I wouldn’t dare be able to give my life,” she said.