For two Fox Valley residents, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s legacy has had an impact on their personal and spiritual lives. As tribute, they are sharing his influence by commemorating his life in their churches.
The Rev. Juancho Campañano and Cynthia Miller reflect on the importance of celebrating King’s legacy in churches and religious institutions especially.
Main Baptist Church, Aurora
The bus burning in Anniston, Ala., in 1961 was not just a news headline to Aurora resident Cynthia Miller, it was a neighborhood tragedy. Growing up in Anniston, Miller experienced firsthand the effects of the Jim Crow laws and segregation.
“We knew in a sense that we were in a segregated situation, and we went to segregated schools,” Miller said. “It was different in that you knew what your ‘place’ was back then, if that’s what you want to call it.”
As one of the first black teachers to be integrated into a predominantly Caucasian school, police officers constantly patrolled the hallways. She never knew what to expect.
“That was really scary,” Miller said. “I had to keep my purse and books right by my desk because I never knew when there was going to be a bomb threat, and we would have to move out of the classroom.”
One day, she was even the target of a suspected threat in an all-white class she taught.
“I had a student indicate that he was going to ‘protest’ the teacher,” Miller said.
Luckily, another student did the right thing.
“One of the students ... left out and came back with a policeman,” she said. “He knew that the other student had a weapon, and he was afraid that he was going to use the weapon on me.”
The young man was arrested and spent about a month in jail for the threat, according to Miller.
“Having to work in that type of environment was very difficult, but it was also very rewarding and let me know that there were people who didn’t want to deal with the ethnic situation, but were put in the midst because of what was existing in the world at that time,” Miller said.
Miller also had a chance to meet Dr. King in the ’60s at a local church in Anniston after the bus burning.
“It was very exciting for me; they had many things going on that point, because of the Civil Rights movement,” Miller said.
She said because of the bus burning, her city became part of his tour to tell people what to do during the movement.
Miller moved to Aurora in 1975 after her husband took a job in the area. The violence she witnessed in Anniston helped her deal with prejudicial situations she dealt with after moving and “work with all people.”
In 1987, Miller and David Walker and Barbara Walker put together Voices for Excellence Community Choir as a way to commemorate Dr. King and other African Americans. The choir has performed in many venues over the years, including a trip to Zimbabwe.
Twenty-seven years later, the choir will perform at the annual King tribute at Main Baptist Church at 6:30 p.m. Jan. 19 . The theme this year is “Remembering the life and legacy of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.: Same dream, a new generation.”
Miller believes it’s important to commemorate the life of Dr. King in the church community because of his ministerial roots.
“He was a pastor. He came from a line of preachers, and the idea of combating inequality was something he wanted to see done,” Miller said. “... Often times in black churches, or in churches period, that’s where things may begin in a community, that’s why I feel we need to be involved.”
Wesley United Methodist Church, Naperville
At the age of 32, the Rev. Juancho Campañano came to the United States from the Philippines to pursue his theological studies.
Campañano attributes his accomplishments to the efforts of Dr. King and those who have fought for social justice.
“I am a person of color — I am Asian,” Campañano said. “Just like many other groups of people, we can be prejudiced against some of our neighbors, against other people of color. I like the idea that the black culture claims the beauty of their personhood. Whatever I am enjoying here in America was made possible by people like Dr. King.”
Campañano believes it’s important for the church to specifically remember the legacy of Dr. King because his primary vocation was a minister of the Christian faith. Campañano saw King as an inspiration and theological figure throughout his education.
“I admire Dr. King,” Campañano said. “I believe that first and foremost he was a clergy person. Of course, he exemplified a different kind of church person because he was so universal in his messages and actions.
“I think that in the past the church (and clergy members) contributed a lot to the public arena, and Dr. King was one of them.”
Wesley will host its first special service in honor of Dr. King at the 10:30 a.m. Jan. 19 worship service.
The service will highlight the different themes that Dr. King promoted and will have a community prayer time in which the congregation can participate.
“We will be asking the people to name some of those who have become their heroes and leaders in terms of social justice, promoting community, respecting tolerance for everyone, and it will be a part of the community prayer time,” Campañano said. “We will also ask for people to recall their dreams for themselves, their communities, families and our church and for the world. Also ask what they can do to make those dreams become a reality.”
Campañano also is looking forward to plans by the Naperville Interfaith Leaders Alliance to commemorate Dr. King’s legacy.
“The church should not forget that it doesn’t exist for itself, but it exists for mission. If we just exist for ourselves, then we are as good as dead,” Campañano said. “We need to get out of the walls, not only to evangelize and preach about the Gospel, but also universal values that the Gospel is advocating.”
While Martin Luther King, Jr. will be honored in churches and religious services in the area, the religious and civil rights leader also will be paid tribute during other events. Here’s a short list
7:30 p.m. Jan. 16: King and Mandela: Legacy of Peace
Aurora University students will host a special event called “King and Mandela: Legacy of Peace” where they will share their reflections and readings on the works and writings of both King and Nelson Mandela.
The event also will feature performances by the Aurora University Chorale in Crimi Auditorium in the Institute for Collaboration, 1347 Prairie St., Aurora.
The event is free, but reservations are required at artsandideas.com, by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling 630-844-4924.
Jan. 19-20: MLK Youth Challenge
JourneyCare and HandsOn Suburban Chicago are teaming up to encourage youth to volunteer for their “Soup and Stories ... Comfort and Conversations for Family and Friends.”
Volunteers will prepare and deliver care packages containing a blanket, soup and conversation cards to patients at JourneyCare hospice (formerly Hospice and Pallative Care of Northeastern Illinois) and other families in the Barrington community. Packages will be prepared Jan. 19 and delivered Jan. 20.
HandsonChicago says, “Martin Luther King., Jr. Day is not just a day off from work and school ... It is a day set aside to honor an American hero who dedicated his life to fight for social justice. And it’s a national day of service.”
JourneyCare is in Barrington; however, full location and direction details are emailed to volunteers after signing up at handsonsuburbanchicago.org.
Jan. 21: Common comes to North Central College
Chicago hip hop artist, actor and author Common will deliver the MLK week keynote presentation, titled “Greatness,” from 7-9 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 21, at North Central College, 325 E. Benton Ave., Naperville. College officials note that King spoke on the college campus in 1960.
After the keynote presentation, there will be a question-and-answer session in the Pfeiffer Hall auditorium. Tickets are $10 for the general public and can be purchased at noctrl.edu.
For more information, contact Dorothy Pleas in the multicultural affairs department at email@example.com.
— Jasmine Young, for Sun-Times Media