Dr. Martin Luther King Tribute at NEIU

Cathleen Schandelmeier-Bartels, Writer

The Evangelical Children’s Choir prepares to sing as Panelists make their final comments at the MLK Tribute

NEIU honored Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on Jan. 13 in the auditorium with a tribute to his enduring legacy as a great civil rights leader. The tribute featured heart pounding African drumming by the Logan Heritage Drummers, angelic singing, poetry and heated debate. Assistant Vice President Murrell Duster introduced President Sharon K. Hahs, who noted that many of the values Dr. King embodied are reflected in Northeastern Illinois University’s values: integrity, excellence, access to opportunity, diversity, community and empowerment through learning.

President Hahs recognized that learning is life-long and not exclusive to this university.  She added how Dr. King was an excellent example of life-long learning. Dr. King even used his time in jail to study, reflect and prepare for what was coming next.  She then quoted Dr. King directly using words he spoke on March 31, 1968, just days prior to his death:

“We have made of this world a neighborhood and yet we have not had the ethical commitment to make of it a brotherhood…We must all learn to live together as brothers or we will all perish together as fools. We are tied together in the single garment of destiny, caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, and whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly.”

She extended her remarks to include President Obama’s comments to the nation on the recent tragedy in Arizona. She then welcomed the esteemed panelists and guests.

Michelle Morrow, the director of scholarships, introduced Kristina Garcia, the president of the Student Government Association at NEIU. In Garcia’s comments, she thanked the Angelina Pedroso Center for Diversity and Intercultural Affairs, and fittingly said, “It is gatherings like these that fuel the fire of Dr. King’s work for generations to come… Dr. King’s message was one of compassion, education and, above all, tolerance in a turbulent time.”

She recognized that NEIU is a Hispanic serving institution, and as such, travels in the shadows of Dr. King’s vision because this university is serving the needs of a diverse urban population.  She said that NEIU’s students are seeking to make their own path towards the American Dream. Opening by acknowledging her humble origins as coming from a family of migrant workers, Garcia mentioned that her family took Dr. King’s message in a way that transcended race, so that he was not only an icon of the civil rights movement, but he represented the possibilities of an emerging Latino population. She noted that her mother was so inspired by Dr. King that she went on to attend NEIU herself, and, after battling many obstacles, graduated with her degree in bi-lingual/bi-cultural elementary education in 1980.

A gorgeous poem written by Lakeesha J. Harris titled “Legacy: A Tribute to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Through the Lens of Dr. Margaret Burroughs” was passionately read, and sung, by Janean Watkins. Watkins is currently the editor in chief of SEEDS Literacy Arts Journal and managing editor of the NEIU Independent. Watkins is also currently constructing a fiction trilogy novel and a college navigation guide for teenagers, and planning to continue her education on to a PhD in Journalism.

Dr. Duster introduced NEIU’s Black Heritage Gospel Choir, who performed despite the fact that their instructor had been rushed to the hospital emergency room with kidney problems that very morning. They fittingly sang “We Shall Overcome.”  The Evangelical Christian School Children’s Choir, under the direction of Sister Cynthia Nunn, sang so splendidly that the angels themselves were reflected in their sweet voices.

A panel discussion of Dr. Martin Luther King’s life and influence was lead by moderator Cliff Kelley, Radio Talk Show Host, for WVON. Kelley spoke about the importance of diversity and tolerance. He mentioned how Republican Party member District Chairman Anthony Miller, an African American in Arizona, resigned because of death threats he had received from those in the Tea Party.  “If you ask me, it’s not the Tea Party. It’s the Tree Party,” said Rev. Dr. Al Sampson. Sampson is a pastor at Fernwood United Methodist Church who was the only member of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) staff personally ordained by Dr. King himself at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, Georgia in 1966. Sampson mentioned that he is the only minister in the country to have his own agriculture department.

William “Bill” Logan, Jr. was also on the panel. Logan attended Western Illinois University where he was one of only nine black students to attend a school of thousands.  The one time he went into town, he was so frightened that he never went back again. He had to leave school after only six months to fight in the Korean War. He served in the Air Force in both Japan and Korea. He went on to become an Evanston police officer. Logan was personally assigned to protect Dr. King while he was in Evanston in the sixties. He recognized that guarding Dr. King is something other police departments did not do, particularly in the south, where they were looking for a reason to arrest Dr. King. Logan voiced his concerns regarding discrimination in Evanston where Logan was concerned about the fact that no police officers had ever been promoted in Evanston’s history, so he was seriously considering a career change. The first thing that Dr. King asked Logan was about his education. When Logan confessed to attending college for only six months, Dr. King told him to hold on to faith in himself, that things would get better in Evanston, that no one was going to give him anything, it had to be earned and that his education was going to be the key to his future. Logan then went on to attend college and obtained his bachelor’s degree from NEIU in 1976. He became the first black lieutenant and the first black captain on the Evanston police department. When the position for police chief was open, he was told it required a college degree, and he was ready. Thanks to Dr. King’s advice, he became the first black police chief in the history of Evanston. Dr. Scipio A.J. Colin III, who earned her degree from Northern Illinois University, gave a feminist edge to the mostly male panel. Colin is the Associate Professor of Adult and Continuing Education at National Louis University, she is also co-editor of White Privilege and Racism: Perceptions and Action. An expert in the world of education, Colin said that there is nothing that can be taught in a curriculum from pre-school through the doctorate level that does not include the fearless ideas and concepts of African American people so that youth can understand where they come from. Dr. Sampson noted that now education is more about the classes and not the masses. A question and answer session followed the panel discussion.

The last comment from the question and answer session came from a white man who said, “This is for the children of the Evangelical Christian School Choir and children everywhere. God says, ‘You’d better off never been born than to harm one of my children.’ That’s from the bible.” The Evangelical Christian School Children’s Choir closed the gathering as everyone present joined hands and sang “We Shall Overcome.”