social justice

MLK Luncheon Speaker Urges Citians to 'Turn Righteous Anger Into Action'

 Julia Evelsizer

The Pantagraph

Four passionate trailblazers were recognized Saturday at the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. awards luncheon.

The event at the Marriott Hotel and Conference Center in Normal honored two teens and two adults from the Twin Cities while focusing on the need to stand up to injustice and spur change through action.

Appellate Justice James A. Knecht, 1996 winner of the Martin Luther King Jr. Award, spoke to a crowd of hundreds before the winners were introduced.

“Dr. King said the hottest place in hell is reserved for those who remain neutral in times of great moral conflict. We’re not here today to be neutral. We are here to turn righteous anger into action,” said Knecht.

He encouraged attendees to “cast aside fear and vote for hope.”

“Speak out, march, practice compassion and decency, revere justice and vote,” said Knecht. “Vote with your collective voices. Vote with your feet as you march with the drumbeat of social change. Fill the ballot box with your hopes and dreams of what America can be.

Mayors Chris Koos of Normal and Tari Renner of Bloomington recognized the award recipients.

Jordyn Blythe (Photo by Lewis Marien/The Pantagraph)

Jordyn Blythe (Photo by Lewis Marien/The Pantagraph)

Winners of the youth “I Have a Dream Award” were University High School senior Jordyn Blythe of Bloomington and Normal Community West High School senior Xavier Higgins of Normal.

Blythe cofounded Serve Plus One, an organization providing service activities and reflection for teens. She also volunteers at several local organizations and cofounded U High’s Black Student Union.

“To all of the youth in the room,” she said, “it is our time now. Don’t be passive. You are never too young to serve. Work to make our world better now because this is what we inherit. Be compassionate and be loving.”

At Normal West, Higgins leads the Best Buddies program to foster friendships with students with physical and intellectual disabilities. He’s also involved in the freshman mentoring program.

“I plan to major in college in computer science and bring technology to people who can’t easily access it so they can work to excel themselves in their own homes,” said Higgins.

Adult recipients were Andre Hursey of Normal and the late Lorenzo Marshall of Bloomington.

Hursey volunteers with several children’s groups in the community and recently founded the Jule Foundation, an organization that offers financial literacy, tutoring and motivational speaking opportunities for youth.

“I want to thank my mother, Gloria, for planting that seed early on and truly showing me the way of serving others in our community,” said Hursey.

Elaine Marshall of Bloomington accepted the award on behalf of her husband who passed away in August.

Lorenzo Marshall volunteered in the Twin Cities and chaired the Juneteenth celebration in Bloomington. Elaine Marshall said her husband would have been humbled to be recognized.

“I can personally attest to the energy and time Lorenzo spent helping mentor others to be their best,” said Elaine Marshall. “Reflecting back on the memories we had in the 42 years we were together really helps the healing process. This award today is something I can add to the reflection of those memories.”

Tuesday Vigil Challenges Transgender Military Ban, Civil Rights Revocation

A Tuesday vigil defends transgender citizens the Administration seeks to bar from the military and challenge Justice Department efforts to remove civil rights under the Civil Rights Law of 1964 by arguing sex discrimination doesn’t apply to sexual orientation or gender identity.

The LGBTQ community and allies are invited to hold a sign of support at the vigil, from 5:30 to 6 p.m. at the Bloomington Center for the Performing Arts Plaza. Participants are invited to wear rainbow colors. The event is sponsored by Stand Up for Social Justice, a non-partisan coalition supported by NIOTBN, YWCA of McLean County,  the ACLU of Central Illinois, the Unitarian Universalist Church Bloomington-Normal, New Covenant Community church, Indivisible Illinois 18 and Indivisible Illinois 13.

Lambda Legal, an LGBT rights group, is gearing up to sue the Trump administration over President Trump's proposal to ban transgender people from serving in the military.

Trump announced via Twitter that he would revive a policy barring transgender people from serving openly in the military. But that announcement came with no formal guidance and the Pentagon said it would continue to allow transgender people to serve until it received new direction from the White House.

A report published Friday by the Los Angeles Blade, however, indicated that the White House had approved guidance for implementing the ban, which Lambda legal called a "mean-spirited and discriminatory attack" on the LGBT community.

Meanwhile, the Justice Department has filed court papers arguing that a major federal civil rights law does not protect employees from discrimination based on sexual orientation, taking a stand against a decision reached under President Barack Obama.

The department’s move to insert itself into a federal case in New York was an unusual example of top officials in Washington intervening in court in what is an important but essentially private dispute between a worker and his boss over gay rights issues.

“The sole question here is whether, as a matter of law, Title VII reaches sexual orientation discrimination,” the Justice Department said in a friend-of-the-court brief, citing the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which bars discrimination in the workplace based on “race, color, religion, sex or national origin.” “It does not, as has been settled for decades. Any efforts to amend Title VII’s scope should be directed to Congress rather than the courts.”

Stand Up Vigil to Address Muslim Ban

"Stand Up for Social Justice: No Muslim Ban" is the focus for February's monthly candle light vigil at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday, Feb.14, on the lawn in front of the Bloomington Center for the Performing Arts.


Participants are welcome to gather at Michael's for a bite directly after the vigil. Please send an RSVP to

Participants are asked to bring non-partisan signs showing support for Muslim neighbors and immigration and opposition to deportation and the Muslim travel ban. Candles & some signs will be provided.

"Stand Up for Social Justice" is a Bloomington-Normal non-partisan coalition. See the group's page on Facebook.

At these second Tuesday monthly vigils, the group seeks to encourage our Bloomington-Normal community to show support to protect civil rights and human rights when at risk, promote social justice, and to safeguard our environment.

State of the Dream

Camille Taylor

WJBC Forum

During January, there are many celebrations around Dr. Martin L. King Jr.’s birthday. The “I Have a Dream” speech is part of Dr. King’s legacy. Since our president gave the State of the Union address last night (Tuesday), I wanted to share a few “State of the Dream” observations.

“I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” Dr. King would have been pleased to see Barack Obama elected President, believing that as a nation, we may be closer to that dream. However, discrimination on the basis of race continues. The U.S. Bureau of Statistics provides a stark contrast between the quality of life for whites versus people of color. A typical white household has 16 times the wealth than people of color when you define wealth as home ownership, education, and job earnings.

Dr. King said, “I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia, the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.” Since 1975, the Georgia Legislative Black Caucus has state legislators who develop remedies for social and economic problems.

King said, “We cannot be satisfied as long as a Negro in Mississippi cannot vote and a Negro in New York believes he has nothing for which to vote.” With the erosion of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, Mississippi doesn’t allow early voting or on-line voting and requires official identification when voting. This has turned the history clock back to the 1960s.

King said, “We can never be satisfied as long as the Negro is the victim of the unspeakable horrors of police brutality.” What would Dr. King think of the almost weekly news of unarmed blacks being shot by police in communities across our nation?

King also said, “I am not unmindful that some of you have come here out of great trials and tribulations. Some of you have come fresh from narrow jail cells.” Dr. King would be saddened by issues like the school to prison pipeline impacting black students, or statistics like one in three black men can expect to go to prison in their lifetime or one out of every 15 black men are incarcerated compared to one out of every 106 white men.

No doubt progress has occurred, but we have a long way to go before his dream becomes a reality.

Legacy Wall to Highlight LGBT History, Legacy

The Legacy Wall, a traveling interactive LGBT history exhibit, will be on display on the main floor of Illinois State University’s Milner Library February 15-27. The free exhibit was created by the Legacy Project, a Chicago-based non-profit dedicated to recognizing the contributions LGBT individuals have made to world history and culture.

The large Legacy Wall exhibit features stories of LGBT people from all walks of life throughout history who have made great contributions in more than 20 distinct fields. Featured individuals include social justice pioneer Jane Addams; civil rights organizer Bayard Rustin; British mathematician Alan Turing; U.S. Congresswoman Barbara Jordan; astronaut Sally Ride; artist Michelangelo; and the Rev. Mychal Judge, the “Saint of 9/11.” In addition to historical content, the exhibit also highlights the challenges faced by LGBT youth and includes data on the effectiveness of including LGBT-related content in general education for substantially lowering the incidence of bullying in schools.

Speakers on the Illinois State campus during February will present on related topics. Carlos Figueroa of Ithaca College will speak about his latest book in the presentation “Bayard Rustin: Black Gay Quaker Thinker and Civil Rights and Labor Activist,” at 7 p.m. Monday, February 15, in the Prairie Room of the Bone Student Center.

Librarian Bill Kemp from the McLean County Museum of History will present “Woman in Blue: Union Army Private Albert D.J. Cashier of Illinois” at 7 p.m. Thursday, February 18, on the main floor of Milner Library. The talk will cover the life of transgender Civil War veteran Albert Cashier.

At 7 p.m. Thursday, February 25, Barb Dallinger will interview Windy City Times publisher and executive editor Tracy Baim about her new book, Barbara Gittings: Gay Pioneer. Baim will also speak about founding the alternative paper, Windy City Times, and how she became interested in LGBT historical figures, including several who are included on the Legacy Wall. That event will be held on the main floor of Milner Library.

The Legacy Wall exhibit is endorsed by the Illinois Secretary of State, the Illinois Department of Human Rights, the Illinois Department of Tourism, the Illinois Municipal Relations Association, and the Illinois Safe Schools Alliance.

The display of the Legacy Wall at Illinois State University is co-sponsored by the Prairie Pride Coalition and Milner Library.

Irv: IWU Center Keys In on Social Justice

Professor Irving Epstein

The Illinois Wesleyan University Center for Human Rights and Social Justice was established three years ago in an effort to bring our college community together to do research, teaching, and advocacy work about human rights and social justice issues.

The Center itself serves as the home for a number of student curricular programs, has provided summer internships for students, and has sponsored talks and events by leading figures including philosopher Martha Nussbaum, producer Anthony Arnove, Pakistani journalist and activist Rafia Zakariah, director and academy award nominated screenwriter John Sayles and producer Maggie Renzi, and actor and author Jesse Eisenberg. During the fall, local activist and professor Mary Campbell gave an invited lecture about the history and operations ofthe Labryinth Outreaches to Women program and author/activist James Kilgore of the University of Illinois, spoke about his new book,  Winning the Battle Against Mass Incarceration.  

The Center also co-sponsored a teach-in focusing upon the Syrian refugee crisis.

Our students have interned with human rights organizations including the Constitutional Rights Foundation-Chicago, the Scholars at Risk Network in New York, and the Advocates for Human Rights organization in Minneapolis. On campus, we also house a Peace Fellows Program, a Scholars at Risk Advocacy seminar, and Undergraduate Workshops.

Participants in the Peace Fellows program take a few classes, pursue an internship either in the U.S. or overseas, and complete independent research project related to human rights issues. One of our Peace Fellows is currently investigating housing issues in the west side of Bloomington. Others have completed work examining various human rights concerns locally, nationally, and globally. Our Peace Fellows have also played an important role in participating and organizing panels for our Martin Luther King Day teach-in, an annual event at Illinois Wesleyan.

Students in our Scholars at Risk Advocacy seminar adopt the case of a scholar, student, or teacher who has been unfairly imprisoned for her/his views, research the case and examine national and international law violations along with the conditions of incarceration, and advocate for her/his release after presenting the file to national and international political and legal bodies such as the UN, State Department, Congressional offices, etc. They currently are monitoring the case of author Domingos Jose Joao de la Cruz, a scholar who is currently on trial in Angola for his advocacy of civil liberties and freedom of expression,

We also host an undergraduate human rights workshop where students and faculty together explore different dimensions of human rights issues in large and small groups, and an Undergraduate Human Rights Research Workshop, where we invite students from other liberal arts colleges to come and together share their ideas as they work to produce a finished paper or research project. The topic of this year’s research workshop, to be held on February 26-27 is “Inequality and Inequity.” 

As the Center continues to evolve, we hope to create a strong relationship with Not in Our Town and offer our support for its many important initiatives. For further information about the IWU Center for Human Rights and Social Justice, feel free to visit our webpage at, on facebook at: Human Rights IWU or on twitter at: