Crowd of 400 honors legacy of Martin Luther King

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Sunday, January 9, 2011
— One of the largest crowds ever turned out for the annual Martin Luther King Jr. commemoration at Blackhawk Technical College on Saturday.

The crowd, estimated at over 400, was treated to:

-- The words and ideas of one of the country’s greatest orators.

-- Rousing songs by the Beloit Memorial High School Gospel Choir.

-- Crowd-pleasing syncopation by the dance group Knightingale Steppers.

-- Honors to the flag by the 7 Springs All Nation Drum, a Native American drum group.

-- Ethnic foods from across the globe.

All that, and inspirational speeches and awards, wrapped into a program that several longtime attendees remarked was packaged into a remarkably short span of time.

The Rock County YWCA’s annual Freedom with Peace Award—formerly the Peace Award—went to the Rev. Steve Umhoefer, pastor of St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Janesville, for a life of embracing diversity, including inviting speakers from other faiths to speak at his church.

The YWCA’s Jane McCauley also cited Umhoefer’s urging of others not to be quick to judge or stereotype when he arrived in Janesville shortly after the 9/11 attacks.

“Father Steve doesn’t shy away from tough issues but deals with those issues with compassion and reverence,” McCauley said.

The UAW Local 95 Civil Rights Committee gave its annual Martin Luther King Service Award to two people: Janesville Craig High School counselor Shelly Osmond and Milton Brown Jr., the head custodian at Robinson Elementary School in Beloit.

Craig Principal Alison Spiegel said Osmond has been at the forefront of improving race relations at Craig and the school district.

She helps oversee the Sisters Empowering Sisters club, which gives female students of color a support network and a chance to learn about their cultures.

“I’d like to thank the girls for allowing their voices to be heard so we can create the programs they need,” Osmond said.

Robinson Principal Sam Carter said Brown is so much more than the head custodian. He is a mentor, coach and cheerleader for staff as well as students.

“I do what I do,” Brown said. “I do love being around the children, who are an important part of what I do.”

The awards came after a selection of video and audio recordings of the great civil rights leader’s speeches, including this snippet:

“If you want to be important—wonderful. If you want to be recognized—wonderful. If you want to be great—wonderful. But recognize that he who is greatest among you shall be your servant. That’s a new definition of greatness.”

A newcomer to the community, the Janesville School District’s director of at-risk and multicultural programs, Yolanda Cargile, urged the crowd resolve to express love, speak against injustice and act as if what they do makes a difference.

“We can make this world a new world,” Cargile said. “We can make Beloit a new Beloit. We can make Janesville a new Janesville.”

Last updated: 4:08 pm Thursday, December 13, 2012

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