Over the weekend, with the Monday morning forecast calling for a rainstorm, the organizers of Evanston’s annual Walk for Warmth had a decision to make: postpone or keep the event going rain or shine?
Working with other community leaders like Rev. Michael Nabors, the senior pastor at Second Baptist Church and president of the Evanston/North Shore NAACP, Interfaith Action of Evanston made the call to keep to the schedule, whatever the weather.
“We have decided that it is better to walk with those who are sometimes not able to walk for themselves, to speak on behalf of those who are sometimes not able to speak for themselves and to represent those who are often homeless during this kind of weather,” Nabors told the crowd of hundreds gathered before the march kicked off from First United Methodist Church.
“This is Evanston at its best. We have come together and set aside anything that might divide us, and we are one united Evanston,” Nabors said. “We are Evanston strong.”
More than 40 faith organizations and community groups joined the walk, including a leadership team featuring Nabors, Mayor Daniel Biss, Evanston Police Chief Schenita Stewart, Evanston Community Foundation President Sol Anderson and several members of city council.
As of Monday evening, the event had raised more than $26,000 in support of Interfaith Action’s emergency overnight shelter, warming centers, soup kitchens and hospitality center.
Monday also represented the fourth time Interfaith Action has organized the Martin Luther King, Jr. Day walk. In the span of just a few years, the march has become a community staple, with more than 600 registering to walk last year, and nearly 500 registering this year, despite the rain.
And the walk has evolved over the years to more closely connect with MLK Day as an opportunity to honor King’s legacy through service, Interfaith Action Board President Melissa Appelt said.
But the Evanston connection to King goes even deeper, as King also preached at the First United Method Church in 1963 at the invitation of then-pastor the late Rev. Dow Napier Kirkpatrick.
King delivered the sermon, “The Dimensions of a Complete Life,” taking his text from a portion of the Book of Revelations, the Chicago Tribune reported. He told the integrated church: “We cannot all be doctors or lawyers, but all work has dignity if it contributes to the welfare of humanity. If you sweep streets, then sweep streets as Shakespeare wrote poetry.”
Among King’s many goals and visions for a brighter future, King was a fierce advocate for the impoverished, homeless and housing insecure.
“The well-off and the secure have too often become indifferent and oblivious to the poverty and deprivation in their midst. The poor in our countries have been shut out of our minds, and driven from the mainstream of our societies, because we have allowed them to become invisible,” King wrote in his 1967 book Where Do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community.
“Ultimately a great nation is a compassionate nation. No individual or nation can be great if it does not have a concern for ‘the least of these.'”
Over the last few years, the many community organizations working to combat homelessness, housing insecurity and poverty in Evanston have started to work more closely alongside one another to accomplish their goals.
Just last year, 26 local groups came together to form the Coalition to End Homelessness in Evanston.
“What that signifies is this is, in fact, a community that wants to address this issue,” said Nia Tavoularis, chief development officer with Connections for the Homeless.
“And that will of wanting to help people find housing stability – which is core to having a healthy, fruitful, productive life – this is a community that supports that.”
Ultimately, the crowd’s optimism and determination to keep the walk going overcame any concerns about the rain. The marchers followed the two-mile route through downtown Evanston, stopping at various churches that provide overnight shelter space throughout the year.
As Nabors told the crowd in his opening remarks, racist attacks and threats against civil rights leaders did not stop the marches on Selma or Washington in the 1960s, so a little bad weather would not stop him in 2023.
“Those who are unhoused or homeless need to be taken care of, and I think we have the resources to do it,” said Cheryl Kendrick, who was marching with Sherman Methodist Church. “We don’t necessarily have the will, so you do what little you can.”