Events were held Monday throughout the metro-east in observance of the legacy of slain civil rights leader the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
East St. Louis
A celebration at St. Luke's A.M.E. Church was two hours of inspiration with poetry, music and oration along with a reception that followed.
Arthur Culver, superintendent of East St. Louis School District 189, told the crowd of more than 250 people not to dwell on King's tragic death, which occurred 45 years ago this year.
"Instead, keep his legacy, more importantly his beliefs," Culver said. "Feel compelled to pick up that torch."
The ceremony was capped by the keynote speech of the Rev. Rick Jackson, pastor of St. Luke's, who gave a fiery talk urging residents to rise up against the problems in East St. Louis, just as Martin Luther King Jr. would have.
"We've come a long way since the days of Jim Crow laws and segregation," Jackson said. "I've seen the dream come true. The problem is it's inside a nightmare."
To a chorus of "Yes, Lord," and "Amen," Jackson said the struggle for African-Americans is not over as the bad elements in East St. Louis of crime and poverty are overshadowing any good that goes on.
"I'm afraid of what's gong on now," he said. "It looks just like 1955 but the names have changed.
"It's not the people outside our city, it's the people inside. They don't wear white sheets, they fight about blue and red.
"The danger isn't riding through on horses anymore. It's in cars with loud music, 20-inch wheels and spinners. But it's the same kind of fear as when the Klan was riding through our town.
"Kids say, if we escape this place, we're not coming back. That's not a dream. That's a nightmare."
Jackson said not to forget that it was the Reverend (with an emphasis on the reverend) Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
"He was with God," Jackson said. Because he listened to the Lord, so can we. It wasn't Martin the man, it was Martin with Christ."
Jackson admitted that some people hear his speech about overcoming obstacles placed before us every Sunday.
"What is the next step?" he asked.
He called on all the churches and their people to come together and pray together heal peoples' wounds.
"Bring them back," he said. "God will forgive their sins."
The reception following the program was sponsored by St. Clair County Board Chairman Mark Kern.
Equality and unity rang true at the New Life in Christ Church's Fourth Annual O'Fallon Metro-east MLK breakfast event, where more than 300 people congregated to celebrate the life and Martin Luther King Jr.
Spearheading the event were leaders and members of the O'Fallon metro-east NAACP chapter, city of O'Fallon administrators, including Mayor Gary L. Graham, O'Fallon Council of Ministers, and the United Congregation of the Metro-east.
The audience was captivated by the words of Bishop Gregory Wells of the O'Fallon Apostolic Assembly Church as he addressed the dreamer in everyone while sharing his memory of growing up in the late '50s and '60s with the constant reminders of Jim Crow laws and degrading labels.
"... I was more a follower of Malcom X and the Black Panther Party. I believed that we were to aquire equality by any means necessary, but in my youthful ignorance I didn't understand that dreams are accomplished by moving the twin principles forward -- patience and perseverance," Wells said.
"It was difficult, if not impossible then, to envision a day like we have today -- to see a time in our own hearts and spirits where we wouldn't have to run from German Shepard dogs and water hoses and the like; and, it was men like Dr. Martin Luther King who funneled that dream. A dream of dreamers is not a past time."
Graham began his address on racial equality with an invitation for a moment of silence for President Barack Obama as he was renewing his oath of office at the nation's capital.
"The city of O'Fallon is proud to lead the metro-east in celebrating the values King espoused: justice, hope, liberty, racial harmony, and diversity at the MLK Breakfast," Graham said.
"We are happy to partner with the faith community because Martin Luther King Jr. was a person of faith who moved this country by faith to embrace its values of liberty, justice and the pursuit of happiness for all its citizens," Graham said.
"His faith empowered him to use the power of nonviolence to overcome hatred, prejudice and racism. It's this time of year America pauses to honor not just the man, but the America we have become because of the man."
Girl Scouts of America Local Chapter 594 showed support by enthusiastically greeting attendees upon entrance. The opening ceremonies consisted of the posting of the colors carried out by the Scott Air Force Base Honor Guard and the National Anthem, performed by the Fulton and Carriel Junior High School Choir.
Wilkerson Chapel A.M.E. was filled with more than 125 people, clapping and singing with a combined choir as they celebrated King's legacy.
Some knew the words, and some learned as they went, while the various speakers emphasized coming together regardless of background.
"We want to be a community learning about each other and embracing our differences," said Tim Stark, associate pastor at Son-Life Church and one of the founders of the annual celebration.
The choir was filled with volunteers from at least four Collinsville churches, and three young people read excerpts from King's famous "I Have a Dream" speech before an offering was collected to help fund a scholarship for Collinsville youth to attend college.
Stark spoke of his own motivation, his two adopted Latino children. He said in researching Collinsville's history, he found a 20-year period at the turn of the last century in which the city's mostly-European population suddenly became one-third Italian, due to the influx of Italian immigrants working the mines. Now, he said, Collinsville is at the same crossroads, with a population of 7,000 Latino residents in 2000 that became 15,000 a decade later.
"I'm confident when the Italians came in, there was ridicule... I'm positive it wasn't all that smooth," Stark said. "Will we repeat history, or change history?"
Mayor John Miller said he believes this cooperative gathering is truly honoring King's dream as much as the man himself. "We have made great strides and continue to do more," he said.
The keynote speaker was Rev. Carl Berry of Wilkerson Chapel, who founded his message on the church as a rock on which great things can be built -- if they work together.
"The world is full of hate. There is an awful lot of malice, envy, selfishness, pride," Berry said. "We are the rocks on which the church is built. It is all of us putting our individual rocks together that gives the church its foundation... We are the church, its greatest strength and its greatest weakness. We need to put our differences aside and come together every once in a while. God created each of us and he created us just the same, whether you know it or not."