Home Local MLK Day: ‘It’s so important to really delve into your history so you know where your roots are, and to also not let history repeat itself’

MLK Day: ‘It’s so important to really delve into your history so you know where your roots are, and to also not let history repeat itself’

by staff

Martin Luther King Jr. slowly appeared as Jessica Patterson, a Chicago area artist, daubed paint on a large mural at a Bronzeville school and directed community members to fill in the outlines of his depiction standing amid children.

Alexander Perez, 31, took charge of some blue paint and followed Patterson’s instructions as the mural — that will hang in the gym at the Donoghue Campus of the UChicago Charter School — began to pop with bright colors.

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“I’ll do the best I can to not mess this up,” said Perez, who lives in Bronzeville. “Who knows, maybe my kid will come to school here and I can say, I did the baby blue part.”

Perez was among hundreds of people across Chicago who ventured out to perform service projects or find educational opportunities to honor the legacy of King, the civil rights leader who championed racial equity and protested discrimination.

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Those who participated said they viewed Martin Luther King Jr. Day, observed on the third Monday in January to honor his birthday of Jan. 15., not simply as a day off school or work but as a call for service and reflection on the activism and teachings of King.

Natia Brownlee, 39, of Roseland, brought her two boys, 11 and 7, to participate in the UChicago Charter School’s day of service, among about 450 people who signed up to do projects at different campuses, organizers said. Waiting for the event to get launched, Brownlee and the boys sat in an auditorium that the class of 1969 dedicated to King, the year after he was assassinated April 4, 1968.

“They understand how he stood for peace, how he helped our community,” Brownlee said of the conversations she’s had with her children about King.

Participants at the UChicago Charter School’s Donoghue Campus broke into groups, with some helping paint the mural while others put together bags of treats for teachers and assembled brown bag lunches to be distributed at shelters.

Over at the DuSable Black History Museum and Education Center, celebrations were winding down midafternoon after a busy day that saw almost 500 visitors come and go, according to receptionist Anthony Cole.

“Unless people know from which they have come, they don’t know where they are, and they certainly don’t know where they should go,” Cole said. “We represent thousands of ancestors that came before us, their dreams, hopes and wishes and prayers.”

Visitors took pictures as they walked through the museum after a morning full of activities such as children’s story time, a “Boycott” film screening and activity tables. Local leaders including U.S. Rep. Jonathan Jackson and U.S. Sen. Tammy Duckworth made an appearance to tour the space.

Outside the museum, a 1950s bus provided by Pace remained parked throughout the day to commemorate Rosa Parks’ role in the Montgomery bus boycott.

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Akoye Simms, 7, stands in the back of a 1949 GMC bus parked outside the DuSable Black History Museum and Education Center on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Jan. 16, 2023, in Chicago. On Dec. 1, 1955, in Montgomery, Alabama, Rosa Parks, a Black woman, was arrested for refusing to give up her seat to a white person in the same model of bus, resulting in the Montgomery bus boycott, led by Martin Luther King Jr.

Tamica Clark and her 10-year-old son, Amari, visited Chicago for the day from Munster, Indiana. She first heard of the DuSable’s celebration on the news and decided to bring her son along so he could learn about his ancestors, she said.

“It’s so important to really delve into your history so you know where your roots are, and to also not let history repeat itself,” Clark said. “Sometimes our kids don’t understand that education wasn’t always a given for a lot of us, we had to fight for it. And Martin Luther King, he did just that, for our kids to be able to have an education.”

They participated in a virtual reality exhibit at the museum called “The March” that immersed them in the historic 1963 March on Washington and King’s “I Have A Dream” speech. It was as if they were walking along with protesters and listening to him in real time, Clark said.

“It’s visceral. It’s so real,” she said, adding that hearing stories from people who knew King firsthand, seeing artifacts once touched by ancestors and participating in immersive experiences is more engaging than social media for kids.

Shari Williams hugs her 8-year-old daughter Maya at the end of their visit to the DuSable Black History Museum and Education Center on Martin Luther King Jr. Day in Chicago.

Inside the Chicago History Museum, visitors checked out a documentary screening, community fair and photo exhibit focused on the civil rights leader’s time in Chicago.

Tiffany Rogers of Hyde Park stood in front two images showing the destruction caused by the 1968 Chicago riots that followed his assassination, carefully discussing the photos with her 5-, 7- and 11-year-old children.

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“As African Americans, as Chicagoans, as Americans, as this next generation, to me it’s important to make sure they understand their history,” Rogers said. “Because so much of it is repeated.”

On the city’s West Side, a group taking a racial justice-focused bike tour despite the rain stopped in front of the Stone Temple Missionary Baptist Church, the North Lawndale church where King preached while living in Chicago. Dozens of volunteers were sharing free clothes, meat and produce with people in need, as the church community does every Monday.

At Stone Temple’s annual King celebration, Pastor Chris Harris of Bronzeville’s Bright Star Church spoke from the same lectern King once sermonized behind.

Executive pastor Reshorna M. Fitzpatrick, center, speaks about the history of her church, Stone Temple Baptist Church, to a group of touring bicyclists on Martin Luther King Jr. Day in Chicago.  King preached at the church when he stayed in Chicago.

He raised the civil rights leader’s idea of “beloved community” as he challenged the crowd sitting in the historic church’s pews to fight poverty, hate and violence in Chicago by reaching across the city’s divisive, invisible lines.

“It’s not enough for us to come together once a year and link arms and sing the song ‘We Shall Overcome,’ ” Harris said, “until we come over into each other’s communities and look out for one another.”

mabuckley@chicagotribune.com

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jsheridan@chicagotribune.com

adperez@chicagotribune.com

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