With Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s voice playing over the speakers at the Carbondale Civic Center and the easy chatter of pleasant conversations dying down, Minister Kurt Ford of Hopewell Baptist Church of Carbondale called the crowd to order. It was a full house at the annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Community Celebration Sunday and the mood was appropriately celebratory.
"It's wonderful to see the community come together to celebrate the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.," he told the crowd.
Angelo Hightower, Marion city commissioner, recited scripture to open the meeting. Dan Selock of Goreville said a prayer. Then, the Boys and Girls Club Choir of Carbondale took the stage and brought the crowd to its feet. Their little faces turned red, but they took their bows, with broad grins all around.
Three young ladies took the stage next and reminded everyone of the wisdom and charisma of the man at the center of the celebration and of the focus of this year's celebration, "Your Vote, Your Voice." Each read excerpts from Dr. King's writings or speeches.
Tiana Myers of Carbondale read from his 1957 speech titled "Give Us the Ballot." Marlo Brown of Marion read from King's 1967 sermon at New Covenant Baptist Church in Chicago. And Maryam Makhdoom of Carbondale read from his "Letter from Birmingham Jail."
A praise dance group from New Zion Baptist Church of Carbondale performed its intricately choreographed movements to "Blackbird" by Nina Simone and "This is My Season for Grace for Favor" by William Murphy.
The Martin Luther King Community Choir of Carbondale, under the direction of Greta Matthews, got everyone back on their feet with a soaring rendition of "King Jesus is A-Listening" and an old-fashioned, foot-pounding, hand-clapping, full-throated performance of "We Shall Overcome."
"After listening to that choir, I'm ready to change churches," said Murphysboro Mayor Will Stephens, who stepped up to the podium next, along with Carbondale Mayor Mike Henry, to present the Spirit of Dr. King Community Service Award to Father Joseph A. Brown, described by Mayor Stephens as a priest and professor, a scholar, an artist and a drum major, quoting from Martin Luther King Jr.
"Tonight we gather to honor a person who has shown the drum major instinct in Carbondale," Stephens said.
Mayor Henry introduced the winner as "someone who exemplifies Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s character and legacy, our own Father Brown."
Brown also chose to read from "Letter from Birmingham Jail."
"Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere," he read. "We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.
"I have been called a troublemaker many times in my life. I don't like being called that," he said. "I did not come here to be a troublemaker. I came here to speak my little piece of truth. If you think enough of me to give me this award, you must think enough of me to know that I tell you the truth."
After a standing ovation, an offering was collected for two groups, United for Puerto Rico, founded in the aftermath of Hurricane Irma and Maria; and Men of Power, Woman of Strength of Cairo, organized to "nurture, feed, provide education, guidance and personal development within the tristate area."
And after performances by musician Henry Herron of Victory Christian Fellowship of Murphysboro and vocalist Teresa Pankey, the evening concluded with a closing prayer by the Rev. William Glore of Mt. Olive Baptist Church of Colp.
The following groups also were represented at this year's event: JustServe, the Gen. John A. Logan Museum of Murphysboro, the Carbondale Racial Justice Coalition, the Carbondale Branch of the NAACP, Veterans Honor Flight of Southern Illinois, the Black Graduate Greek Council of Carbondale, the American Immigration Council, the Center for Empowerment and Justice, Good Samaritan Ministries, and Zeta Amicae Chapter of Carbondale.