Candlelight vigil at Alice Millar ChapelPhoto by Heidi Randhava

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In speech, song, and service over several days, Evanstonians honored the legacy and the vision of Martin Luther King Jr.

On Jan. 11, the youngest of the expressive writing groups at Family Focus in Evanston wrote their own “I Have A Dream” speeches after listening to Dr. King’s famous speech. These third-to-fifth graders are in the “My Dreamers” group run by JoAnn Avery. She said, “I was so proud of them. Every speech was unique and over-the-top creative. I pray that each and every one of them fulfill their dreams that were written today. In my opinion the world will be a better place because of these young people.”  

Here are some excerpts from the speeches: “I have a dream that everyone will grow up and be happy and healthy.” “I have a dream that one day all the people will realize we’re equal.” “I have a dream that people will not bully other people.” “I have a dream that one day all the kids around the world will be able to go to school.” “I have a dream that I will provide money for my parents.” “I have a dream that one day I will solve the cure for cancer.” “I have a dream that people will treat everyone with kindness.” “I have a dream that dreams can come true.”

The programs on Jan. 13 focused on youth and women who participated in the civil rights movement, as well as on Dr. King’s vision of equality and harmony.

 At the celebration at Fleetwood-Jourdain community center on Jan. 13, the focus was on the role of youth in the civil rights movement of the 1960s and today. Alexis Harris Dyer, a senior at Evanston Township High School, served as emcee, and ETHS graduate and Northwestern University freshman Nolan Robinson gave the keynote speech.

Mr. Robinson described the Children’s Crusade of 1963 in Birmingham, Ala., conceived by Reverend James Bevel of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, who was an adviser to Dr. King.

Birmingham Public Safety Commissioner Bull Connor’s actions in turning fire hoses and attack dogs on the children horrified people not only in this country but around the world,
Mr. Robinson said.  

Diverse Communities United, a program by Y.O.U. that same afternoon, included performances, original songs and poetry, videos, and artwork by 100 youth expressing their vision for realizing Dr. King’s dream today. Youth in Y.O.U.’s after-school programs organized the event and chose this year’s theme – “I am deliberate and afraid of nothing,” a quote from renowned poet and activist Audre Lorde – as a way to incorporate the often overlooked female perspective of the civil rights movement.

The youth leadership committee also interviewed a number of inspirational female leaders in their community, including 9th Ward Alderman Cecily Fleming, ETHS teacher Tamie Holmes, and McGaw YMCA Interim CEO Monique Parsons, and clips from those interviews were shown between the acts.

Y.O.U. presented its annual Diverse Communities United Equity Award to Pastor Michael Nabors and the congregation of Second Baptist Church for their “commitment to racial equity and ongoing work toward dismantling racism.”

At a multi-denominational church service at Alice Millar Chapel on Jan. 14 sponsored by Second Baptist Church, leaders of Evanston’s faith community spoke about the need for equality.

Rabbi Andrea London of Beth Emet The Free Synagogue played excerpts from a recording of a speech that Dr. King gave there in 1958. The tape was rediscovered in 2002.

The following day many in the community observed, Dr. King’s actual birthday, as a day of service.

The candlelight vigil that evening was hosted by Alpha Mu Chapter of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity. The keynote speaker was Don Thompson, former CEO of McDonald’s. Mr. Thompson, with his wife, Liz, founded and direct Cleveland Avenue. Named for the street where the two grew up in Chicago’s Cabrini-Green, the organization has a mission to “foster growth for a new generation of remarkable restaurant, food-tech, and beverage companies.”

Mr. Thompson said young people need help finding their “internal fire” to understand and fulfill their purpose.