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Youth Organization Umbrella (Y.O.U.) held its 8th annual Diverse Evanston Walks United, a community-wide celebration of peace, diversity, unity, leadership and service, on Martin Luther King Day.
The celebration, held at the Music Institute of Chicago, began and ended with videos that showed segments of Dr. King’s life. Y.O.U. students read parts of Dr. King’s speeches and recited some of his well-known quotes. They also read poems and sang songs during the celebration.
The event was punctuated with four short speeches. In addition, Don Baker and Delores Holmes, who have been active in the community for 40 years, were presented with “What it Takes Awards.”
Seth Green, executive director of Y.O.U., put the event in context. “We have made great progress toward legal equality in this country,” he said. “But at the same time, we have increasingly sophisticated labor markets. And we have a widening income gap based on educational opportunity. The income and educational structure has all been built upon the historic inequities that have already existed.
“What it takes to realize Dr. King’s dream today is not as much about courtrooms, though that is important. It’s even more about classrooms and about ensuring children equity in educational opportunity in school and out of school for all children independent of circumstances.
“When we come together in creating an ecosystem where all kids have opportunities,” Mr. Green continued, “only then can we transcend the evils of our history and truly recognize Dr. King’s transcendent vision of youth being judged by the content of their character and communities like ours having access to all of the unlimited potential of their youth.”
Charles Jefferson, a Y.O.U. alumnus and currently a student at Columbia College, referred to the violence in Chicago and in Evanston. “I’m tired of hearing stories of young people being killed. It’s not fair. We have to band together. It is not a white thing. It’s not a black thing. It’s a community thing because we are all in this together. This affects us all. We have to take back our communities. It’s about giving our youth a chance to express themselves.”
Kathy Graves, site coordinator of Y.O.U.’s after-school program at Nichols Middle School, said the world does not look the same as when Dr. King advocated for change. But, she said, “There are still things holding us back, and more importantly, holding our youth back.”
Addressing youth in the audience, Ms. Graves said, “Beyond his dream, Dr. King had a vision. He saw it; he believed it; and he spoke it. … Create your vision – the vision for your future, your life, the vision for the world, and hold on to it. Dr. King raised his voice to change the world, and young people, you can do the same. Use your voice as your weapon of choice. Violence is not the answer, but speaking up and speaking out is. … If one man’s voice, one man’s vision, one man’s dream could move a nation, why can’t yours?”
Richard Hubbard, a Y.O.U. Board member, said, “This is a community of deeds, committed to opening the door of opportunity to all of God’s children, in Dr. King’s words. We all know the cliché “it takes a village to raise a child,” but it really captures the spirit and commitment of Evanston. We have a vibrant city, a community dedicated to social equality – our schools, our City government, our numerous volunteering …”
Some final quotes of Dr. King recited were, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that,” and “Free at last, free at last. Thank God, I’m free at last.”
Don Baker and Delores Holmes received What It Takes awards.
In 1971, Mr. Baker served on the Evanston Youth Commission that ultimately led to the founding of Y.O.U. Over the next four decades, under his leadership, Y.O.U. helped more than 15,000 youth.
Ms. Holmes served as the director of Family Focus-Evanston for 27 years. She has served as the alderman for the Fifth Ward since 2005.
Barb Hiller, chief administrative officer of School District 65, described Mr. Baker as a deep listener, a trust builder, as sensitive and honest at the same time, and as a behind-the-scenes worker. “I can boil it down to one word: relationships,” said Ms. Hiller. “It’s an important word that refers to everything we do, teaching, listening, consulting and advising. Don is certainly the epitome of that.”
Mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl said of Ms. Alderman Holmes, Delores is not only a long-term member of this community, she is a brilliant woman. She is not only very smart, she is very wise, and that is why we always say, ‘Have you checked with Alderman Holmes’ or ‘I’m going to check with Alderman Holmes.’ That’s why the City is in as good shape as it is in. She has incredible wisdom.”