For Immediate Release FOR MORE INFORMATION CONTACT:
January 21, 2019 Rita Ali, Chair, (309) 256-3300
Receives MLK Commemorative Service Leadership Award
The King Holiday Committee of Peoria presented its annual Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Commemorative Service Leadership Award and MLK Drum Major Awards at the 35th Annual Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Commemorative Service held at Bethel United Methodist Church following the MLK Freedom March on Monday, January 21, 2019.
This year, we honor Judy Page with the prestigious Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Commemorative Service Leadership Award. The award goes to an individual or group that has made a significant recent contribution having great impact to our community.
Think about what it must take to be a professional vocalist in Peoria for more than 50 years, what she’s seen, what she’s heard and what it took to pursue her passion in spite of it all. There’s a reason Aretha and singers like her favorite, Nancy Wilson, had reputations for demanding respect.
She got her start singing at home, in the church, and Carver Center. She was still a girl when she went on the road singing backup for Ike and Tina Turner. She left the Ikettes, but she never left singing, particularly in popular local bands.
She has been a mentor and shoulder for other up and coming musicians, a volunteer in other areas of arts and entertainment. She was recently inducted into the African-American Hall of Fame. One of the highlights of her career was opening for Ray Charles at the Tri-County Urban League’s Black and White Gala. To hear loud applause from a hometown audience lifted her.
Not too long ago, she was feeling like maybe it was time for her to retire, time to step down from the unique vocal perch she has carved out for herself. But not yet, not before we have a chance to lift her up also.
The 2019 MLK Drum Major Awards:
Angela Henry, Drum Major Award forMedia and Public Service. She makes a space to showcase African American ambition and success. There’s no other space like it in downstate Illinois and she was practically born into it. If you want to know something about the history of black Peoria, you must stop by this space. Her parents created it 52 years ago when she was six years old. There have been other outlets like it but none have lasted half a century and two generations. That’s saying something for a family-owned business, particularly a black family-owned business. The business is probably best known for its fierce founder, Elise Allen. But her daughter, Angela Henry, the current managing editor of the Traveler Weekly, brings her own fresh energy to the newspaper.
Yolanda Riley, Drum Major Award for Social Justice. She wanted to be like Clair Huxtable of the Cosby Show. . .Clair Huxtable wasn’t real but the next Drum Major is the Real Deal. She is a natural advocate, having won several civil lawsuits before she ever went to law school. Since she graduated from law school and returned to Peoria, she is making a name for herself as an advocate for those who need a second chance. As an attorney with Prairie State Legal Services, she was out front helping hundreds of area residents erase or seal old criminal records, notably as part of Expungement Summits sponsored by State Rep. Jehan Gordon-Booth. She was one of the first to answer the Black Panther challenge locally. On their own, she and a few others sponsored 50 local children for a showing of the record-breaking movie. She recently jumped from McCall Law office to become the first black attorney at one of the city’s major law firms – Kavanaugh, Scully, Sudow, White and Frederick. She is vice president of the local ACLU chapter and serves on the Diversity Committee for the Peoria Bar Association. Obviously, she breaks the stereotype about children who have been in foster care.
Susan Katz, Drum Major Award for Community Unity. Let us not forget hundreds of area students joined nationwide sit-ins and walkouts calling for tougher gun control laws in honor of the victims of the Parkland mass shooting, where 17 died. We remember the mass shooting at Pulse, a gay night club in Orlando, where 49 died. We remember the mass shooting in Las Vegas, where 58 died. We remember the mass shootings at Sandy Hook, Mother Emmanuel AME Church and the temples, mosques, colleges, movie theaters, and synagogues. We remember. We remember each time we heard someone say we never thought it would happen here. We remember because we know it can happen here, there and anywhere people. . .but particularly when people are targeted by race, age, ethnicity, gender or faith. We remember the mass shooting at the Tree of Life Congregation in Pittsburgh where 11 died. And we honor the woman who has been key in local efforts to make sure we never forget. Katz helped organize the local vigil for the victims at Tree of Life. Also, her work with the Jewish Federation of Peoria and its Holocaust Memorial.
Co-Pastors Martin and Lisa Johnson. Drum Major Award for Community Support. This couple has been about the work of building and beating the drum for community service since they retired from the military and set out on a new beginning. Their personal new beginning turned into hopes for a new community beginning in some of the poorest parts of the city. . .hopes based on Dr. King’s definition of leadership through service and commitment to. . .as he said in the Drum Major speech. . .feed the hungry, clothe the naked. . .work with those in prison. . .and make this old world new again. They turned an old vacant building on the east bluff into a vibrant church steeped in community outreach. Then they bought an old vacant school building on the near north side which they have been transforming into a community center with a variety of classes and activities for young people. Their work and plans for the old Kingman School drew attention from the church across the street, which knew it needed new blood for its mission to survive. The dying, century-old church sold its building and assets to the young, energetic church for just $1 a few years ago in 2014. Their commitment to leadership through service has blossomed into New Beginnings Ministries and the Nannie M. Johnson Community Center.
Jonathon and Nikki Romain. Drum Major Award for Art Education and Service. He is a visual artist. She is a performing artist. Art changed their lives, art is their life. He is the ex-drug dealer who headed to prison right after he graduated from Bradley University, then built a career as a nationally-known painter. She is the singer and actress who says performing literally saved her life. Both have compelling personal stories. But even more compelling is how much they want to change lives and communities through the healing power of art. He patiently worked to buy the old Greeley School, a long-vacant building he dreamed of turning into an art center. When the red tape finally cleared, he and his wife took off like there was no tomorrow. But they have a clear vision of tomorrow and how to re-imagine the future. They have formed a non-profit arts organization whose mission is to inspire and empower the community through the arts. The non-profit currently offers classes in three Peoria schools. And if there was any doubt about their vision and commitment, it began to fade in the widespread enthusiasm it took to help them beat out hundreds of other applicants from across the country to win a $25,000 grant from State Farm. They’ve raised thousands more since for the organization they founded, Art, Inc.
“Yes, if you want to say that I was a drum major, say that I was a drum major for justice; say that I was a drum major for peace; I was a drum major for righteousness. And all of the other shallow things will not matter.” These are the words of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King.