John Gilbert has seen big advancements in civil rights protections under the law during his 38 years as an attorney.
"Back in the '60s, we were worried about race," he said. "And now we're extending protections to gays and lesbians and transgenders."
Gilbert specializes in civil rights law as an attorney with Hinshaw & Culbertson in Belleville and Edwardsville.
He would like to see more dialogue between people of different races, genders, ages, religions and sexual orientations.
"To me, it's better to resolve issues outside of the legal arena than to get into the meat grinder of litigation," he said.
Gilbert, 62, of Edwardsville, will be the keynote speaker at the third annual MLK Day of Observance and Conversation Cafe in Belleville on Monday.
The public is invited to attend from 10 a.m. to noon in the main auditorium of Lindenwood University, 2600 W. Main St. in Belleville.
"It's going to be an awesome event," said co-organizer Gloria Crowder, president of the 17th Street Corridor Neighborhood Association.
The theme is "Civil Rights: Rhetoric or Reality." Activities will include a panel discussion with nine students, white and black, ages 15 to 20.
"We're trying to engage our youth," said Crowder, 61, of Belleville. "We're going to talk to them about how they view civil rights, as opposed to older people. It's just a way to get a conversation going."
The neighborhood association is sponsoring the event with Lindenwood University, Belleville school districts 118 and 201 and Belleville AmeriCorps.
The panel discussion will be led by Kimberly DeBoe, a human resources trainer. Her 16-year-old daughter, Ashlyn Matlock-Armstead, who is bi-racial, is one of the nine students.
"To (my kids), race is not an issue," said DeBoe, 38, of Belleville. "They see that there's a difference, but they don't see it the way we did, just like we didn't see it like the previous generation did. They're like, 'What's the big deal?'"
Bringing together generations and races is one of the main goals of the MLK Day of Observance and Conversation Cafe.
"(Young people are) our future," Crowder said. "I want to know that our community and country are going to be left in capable hands. That's our responsibility as older people.
"We have to know what they know. If we don't know, how can we guide them in the right direction?"
Here are some other metro-east events planned in to celebrate the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday:
Collinsville Area Ministerial Alliance and the MLK Event Committee will sponsor Collinsville's annual Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Celebration at 6:30 p.m. Monday at Wilkerson Chapel AME Church, 317 Summit Ave. The theme is "A Call to Serve." Activities will include music by a community choir. For more information, call 618-345-4224, ext. 100, or 618-344-8740.
St. Louis TV and radio personality Carol Daniel will be the keynote speaker at Edwardsville's Martin Luther King Jr. birthday celebration at 10 a.m. Monday at Mount Joy Missionary Baptist Church, 327 Olive St. Activities will include music and other tributes from Edwardsville and Glen Carbon residents. For more information, call 565-7219 or 980-8461.
Christ Church will host its annual Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration at 3 p.m. Sunday with keynote speaker Bishop Jonathon Keaton. The church is at 339 Frank Scott Parkway. For more information, call 618-277-4659 or visit mychristchurch.com.
Lebanon Area Ministerial Council of Church's will host a community worship service to celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. Day at 7 p.m. Monday at First United Methodist Church, 603 W. St. Louis St. Deacon Charles Brown of Mount Olive Baptist Church in Lebanon will speak. For more information, call 618-537-6622.
The City of O'Fallon, Mayor Gary L. Graham, O'Fallon Council of Ministers, United Congregations of the Metro East and the NAACP's O'Fallon branch will present the fourth annual Metro East Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Breakfast Celebration from 7:30 to 8:30 a.m. Monday at New Life in Christ Church, 689 Scott Troy Road. Bishop Gregory Wells Sr. of O'Fallon Apostolic Assembly Church will speak. The cost is $8 plus two cans of food for O'Fallon Food Pantry. For more information, call 618-624-4500, ext. 9-1112.
New Shining Light Church will host its 16th annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Birthday Observance and awards ceremony at 4 p.m. Sunday at 740 Broadway in Venice. The guest speaker will be the Rev. Freddie J. Clark, pastor of Shalom City of Peace Church in Florissant, Mo. For more information, call 618-530-2864 or 618-530-2347.