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Did you know that on Jan. 21, one of the Chicago area's largest Martin Luther King Jr. celebrations takes place in DuPage County?
Thirteen years ago, Benedictine University began the MLK Breakfast to celebrate our diversity. What was once attended by only a few has become a very popular event. In recent years Benedictine has been fortunate to partner with the College of DuPage in hosting the breakfast.
This year marks the 40th anniversary of King's assassination. Generations of young people study him as a historical figure who led the civil rights movement in the 1950s and 1960s. What relevance does this historical figure have in their 21st-century lives? Surely the issues facing King and the civil rights struggle are behind us -- or are they?
I am often asked, "Why a Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Breakfast in the 21st century?" There have been many improvements in race relations, yet challenges abound. While the "black-white" dialogue of the last half of the 20th century moved some steps forward, that dialogue, although incomplete, has been joined by a larger dialogue -- one including Hispanics, Asians and Muslims, just to name a few. The immigration debate, the possibility of racial profiling in the face of terrorism, and the population growth of "non-white" residents in this country appears to be unparalleled in modern history.
While the participants in the racial-ethnic-religious dialogue have increased since King's day, the basic issues have not. Our lack of knowledge of one another is a key element in distrust, suspicion and even hatred of other groups that may not look or worship as we do. In his famous "I Have a Dream Speech," King said, "I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: 'We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.' … 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."
Forty years later, I believe King would allow us to amend that last sentence to read, "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, their ethnic heritage or religious persuasion but by the content of their character."
Clearly, we have yet to reach this lofty but necessary vision. Perhaps the best way to begin this realization is to start with a small first step. Why not begin to meet those you do not know and, in the process, begin your own understanding of "others" not part of your "group"?
The Martin Luther King Jr. Breakfast does not presume to solve the many issues involved in attempting to realize King's vision of tomorrow; in fact, these issues may not even be raised. The purpose of the breakfast is to celebrate a great American, but it is also to celebrate one another -- to celebrate our diversity.
When we founded the breakfast, the intent was not to focus on a particular racial or ethnic group but to focus on all racial, ethnic and religious groups as God's wonderful quilt. Whether you are of Irish, African, French, Chinese or whatever ancestry, you are welcome. Whether you are a Christian, Jew, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu or a non-believer, you are welcome. Whether you are age 6 or 60, you are welcome. If you are simply curious as to what this event entails, you are welcome.
The breakfast takes a moment to celebrate ourselves and each other and the wonderful racial-ethnic-religious tapestry that is the United States. Past speakers have represented an array of professions and religious backgrounds. They speak not to persuade but to share life experiences from which we might glean some understanding of our own situation.
We are particularly pleased that this year's speaker will be Roy Saigo, a nationally recognized change agent. He brought strong leadership and a commitment to diversity while president of St. Cloud State University. He is known for his ability to address tough issues openly.
After the breakfast concludes, there will be two discussion sessions. "Too Many Children Left Behind -- How Can We Close the Achievement Gap?" will be led by the College of DuPage Public Policy Institute. The second session, "Living Together," will be led by COD President Sunil Chand, Saigo and me.
The breakfast runs from 8 to 9:30 a.m. Jan. 21 at the Krasa Center on our campus, 5700 College Road, Lisle. The cost is $25. For more information or to make reservations, contact Cynthia G. Johnson at the College of DuPage at (630) 942-3872 or by e-mail at Johnsoncg@cod.edu, or Mary Ann Millush at (630) 942-2269 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you go
What: Martin Luther King Jr. Breakfast, co-sponsored by Benedictine University and College of DuPage
When: 8-9:30 a.m. Jan. 21
Where: Krasa Center at Benedictine, 5700 College Road, Lisle
Details: Breakfast with speaker Roy Saigo followed by two discussion sessions
Info: (630) 942-3872 or (630) 942-2269; Johnsoncg@cod.edu or at email@example.com