By Chris Francis, Editor-In-Chief
“If you see a wrong somewhere, would you try to make it right? If you see someone being mistreated, will you say something?” asked Barbra Malone, a member of The United Community Gospel Singers of Bloomington-Normal.
Malone’s question reflected the spirit of the 22nd annual Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Fellowship Dinner featuring guest speaker Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White.
Held at 5 p.m. on Monday, Jan. 23 in the Memorial Center Young Main Lounge, the honored guests of the dinner included Gospel Singers’ Executive Director Reverend James E. Sims, Sr. and Illinois Wesleyan University Provost Jonathan Green in addition to White.
Guests of the dinner, with the specially honored Sims family and the Gospel Singers themselves, were served dishes planned and created by Pearl Johnson, an employee of IWU who originally designed the Fellowship Dinner’s meals 22 years ago.
“The Gospel Singers have been co-sponsoring this event with [Illinois Wesleyan University] for 22 years now,” said James Joyner, deacon of Bloomington’s Loving Missionary Baptist Church and Committee Member of the Gospel Singers. “You cannot believe the number of hours it takes to put this together every year.”
Following the dinner, White gave his address, detailing his many projects undertaken to improve the inner-city of Chicago and other locales around the state.
Having a heart for inner-city youths, he explained his vision for the next generation of Chicago young adults. “Every day make sure you put something new between your ears,”
White said addressing the substantial high school and college student portion of the guests. “We always want you to look up, and the only time you look down is to tie your shoes.”
Aside from this, he also emphasized the importance of blood and organ donation, citing how one of his tumblers had tragically died, but his death resulted in the saving of multiple lives via organ transplants.
White concluded his speech with his memories of Dr. King during White’s time as a college student in Montgomery, Ala. in 1955, the year of the anti-segregation bus strikes and in the midst of White’s bids for fraternities at Alabama State University.
After hearing that Dr. King would be speaking at a church in town, White and several friends attended. “We walked two miles there, and we ran two miles back to tell our friends and roommates and whoever everything we heard Dr. King say,” White said in his address.
White explained how he eagerly became a member of the Montgomery bus strikes after hearing Dr. King speak. “We were able to break the back of the transportation system,” White said.
Following White’s address was a performance by the nationally touring Jesse White Tumblers—a team of inner-city youths who are coached by White himself and perform tumbling acrobatics.
“I was worried that the ceiling of the [Young Main Lounge] might not be high enough,” White said before leaving to change into his uniform. And when the Tumblers brought out the trampoline for their jumping acrobatics, White’s concerns were almost the case, though there were no injuries.
“Had the room been larger and the ceiling been higher, we could have really put on a show,” White said.
The evening closed with a chorus of “Faithful is Our God” sung by the Gospel Singers backed by a small ensemble of piano, drums, and bass guitar, but the last word was given by Jesse White, “I hope you all leave here with a better feeling toward your fellow man and woman.”