PEORIA — On a bitterly cold Martin Luther King Jr. Day, some two dozen people heeded the slain reverend's words, "And as we walk, we must make the pledge that we shall always march ahead. We cannot turn back.”
And march they did for the annual MLK Freedom March, steam coming from their mouths but chanting for freedom and equality. The 1-mile walk from the Romeo B. Garrett Cultural Center at Bradley University ended at Bethel United Methodist Church, where the marchers were greeted and cheered by more than 100 people who came for the annual awards ceremony.
The mantra heard was power and the need to use it to change the world. Keynote speaker Harreld Webster Jr., a minister and the owner of Triple Dipple in Chillicothe, gave a rousing talk about power, the Gospels and the 1980s TV cartoon "He-Man and the Masters of the Universe."
The titular character could only gain his powers when he held up his magical sword and proclaimed, "I have the power." That statement, he contended in his 20-minute talk, was key to many people needing to see that they have the power to make their lives not just ordinary but extraordinary.
The 35th annual event also honored several people for their leadership and service to the community. The King Holiday Committee of Peoria gave the prestigious Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Commemorative Service Leadership Award to singer Judy Page for her significant community contributions.
A member of the African American Hall of Fame, Page sang back up for Ike and Tina Turner, opened for Ray Charles at the Tri-County Urban League’s Black
and White Gala and was a mentor for up and coming Peoria-area musicians as well as a volunteer in other areas of the arts and entertainment.
Yolanda Riley was one of those honored with the annual Drum Major awards. A local attorney with the firm Kavanaugh, Scully, Sudow, White and Frederick, she had worked at Prairie State Legal Services where she was in the forefront of helping people expunge or seal their criminal records. The committee noted she was "one of the first to
answer the "Black Panther" challenge locally. On their own, she and a few others sponsored 50 local children for a showing of the record-breaking movie."
A foster child, Riley said later she wanted to do something to help those who needed help.
"The incident with the kids, as you heard, I was a foster child and this was a chance to give back to that group of kids who were foster children or who had some form of contact with the system," she said. "It was just a thought that I had as I have never really had an opportunity to do that."
Receiving the award for social justice, she said, was humbling and a shock but she said it was also a call to action.
"Everyone has some sort of gift or ability to transform in some way the world," she said. "There is something we could be doing to transform our community. It makes you want to ... just the thought of being in the footsteps of MLK, it — wow — it makes you want to do so much more and make more of an imprint."
Other winners for the Drum Major award were:
* Media and Public Service: Angela Henry, the managing editor of the Traveler Weekly newspaper.
* Community Unity: Sue Katz, the executive director of the Jewish Federation of Peoria, for her work in organizing a local vigil for the shooting victims at Tree of
Life Congregation in Pittsburgh, Pa., and also for her dedication to the Holocaust Memorial.
* Community Support: Martin and Lisa Johnson, co-pastors of the New Beginnings Ministries and the Nannie M. Johnson Community Center that is active with community outreach and support.
* Art Education and Service: Jonathan and Nikki Romain, who formed the not-for-profit Arts Inc., whose mission is to inspire and empower the community through the arts. The not-for-profit currently offers classes in three Peoria schools.
Andy Kravetz can be reached at 686-3283 and firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @andykravetz.