Chicago area honors legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King

PUSH-Excel scholarship breakfast held, City Year volunteers beautify Chicago elementary school, Obama Foundation hosts service day

BySarah Schulte, Leah Hope, and Christian Piekos WLS logo
Monday, January 16, 2023
Annual PUSH-Excel Scholarship breakfast honors MLK
Monday's Push Excel Scholarship Breakfast marks the 33rd year thousands have come together to help young students achieve their academic dreams on MLK Day.

CHICAGO (WLS) -- Chicago will be celebrating the life and legacy of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Monday.

Monday's PUSH-Excel Scholarship Breakfast marks the 33rd year thousands have come together to help young students achieve their academic dreams on MLK Day.

Tens of millions of dollars have been raised over three decades giving students a chance to succeed.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. quotes: Remembering the civil rights leader with his own words

Unified in prayer, a packed Chicago hotel ballroom honored the life and legacy of Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. at the annual Push-Excel Scholarship breakfast.

"Today we celebrate Dr. King's birthday, but how many of you know that Dr. King's birthday is a history of our resilience," PUSH-Excel president Dr. Julianna Malveaux said.

Push-Excel, a nonprofit founded in 1975 by Reverend Jesse Jackson Senior, inspires students across the country to strive for academic excellence, regardless of personal hurdles on the homefront.

Over $20 million has been raised for college scholarships for thousands of students since the first breakfast in 1991.

"We want to parents to take their children to school, to meet their child's teachers, to exchange phone numbers and turn TV off five hours a night," Rev. Jackson said.

ABC7's Evelyn Holmes was an MC at the breakfast and says that it is a critical investment in the future.

"What's even more important is the investment that you're not only making in yourselves, but in your communities," Holmes said.

Perri Irmer, president of the DuSable Black History Museum, talks about why it is important to dedicate a day to honor Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

Monday, the organization is launching a national initiative to improve the lives of young people affected by COVID-19 and the economic downturn that followed.

"At Push-Excel, we took that storm and turned it into a blessing," Dr. Sonya Whitaker, PUSH-Excel national education and policy director, said. "When we couldn't get to educators, when we couldn't get to parents or community members, we went back into the room and figured out how are we going to work on behalf of black and brown children even during this storm."

Push-Excel hopes to uplift students in particular who are homeless and lack access to basic essentials, like food and clothing.

Ciera McKissick, public programs manager at the Hyde Park Arts Center, talks about their events for Dr. Martin Luther King Day.

Elected officials from all levels of government were also present at the breakfast to support the group's mission, including Mayor Lori Lightfoot.

"We are fortunate in this city to have Rev. Jackson alive and well and living out the legacy of that he has created," Lightfoot said.

Hope for the future could be found seated right in the ballroom with a group grateful for the historic work of Dr. King and the work still to be done to improve the lives of young people.

According to Push Excel, just last year, the organization supported 82 students attending 56 different colleges and universities.

City Year volunteers beautify Chicago school

For the 27th year, City Year's AmeriCorps volunteers spent Martin Luther King Day beautifying a Chicago school.

For the 27th year, City Year's AmeriCorps volunteers spent Martin Luther King Day beautifying a Chicago school.

"I think it's a day to step back from yourself and reflect why you are here," City Year volunteer Ally Whittaker said. "Just do a project that truly makes a difference in the lives of students."

Wisconsin native Dominic Smith is serving in the same neighborhood where his mom grew up.

"I learned from him, just to serve and help people," Smith said. "It feels even better going back to her community and giving back to where my cousins went to school, my grandparents went to school."

Before volunteers picked up their paint brushes, they were joined by several public officials who reflected on what Dr. King means to them.

"It's about being selfless," Mayor Lori Lightfoot said. "It's about making that sacrifice, it's about being present, doing good work because it's the right thing to do."

A day on instead of a day off was the right thing for Jerry Bwanhot. The Chicago dad and his 6-year-old daughter joined the City Year volunteers.

"It's like a date with my daughter, we are on a date doing service work," Bwanhot said, laughing.

Bwanhot said teaching his children to give back is a big priority for his family.

"They think money grows on trees, they swipe the card and get stuff," he explained. "Just trying to teach them there is a lot you can do to serve other people who are less fortunate."

Naima Bwanhot may only be in first grade, but she has already learned that Dr. King's legacy is lived every day - not just one day of service.

"He changed the way how people treat people fairly," Naima said.

In all, 27 murals are being painted. The only downside is volunteers will not be here to see the look on students' faces when they return to a much different school building tomorrow.

Obama Foundation hosts service day

The Obama Foundation partnered with several organizations to honor Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. with a day of service at the South Side YMCA.

The Obama Foundation partnered with several organizations to harness the help of those honoring Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. with a day of service, choosing the Y a few blocks from where the new Obama Center will be located.

At the South Side YMCA, 250 volunteers worked on several projects to help others. Some planted seedlings for an Englewood farm that sells and shares fresh produce, while others decorated birthday cards to be part of special birthday boxes for seniors who get food delivered. Others combined kits and activities for families escaping abuse.

"The hope is that in giving back and doing for others, we can do one small thing to make our community the beloved community that we all seek," said Michael Strautmanis, executive VP of civic engagement at the Obama Foundation.

We met some volunteers decorating boxes that they filled with food to restock the Love Fridges, which offer free meals around the city. Raj Prasad came with his 3 and 7-year-olds from Kenwood.

"To be of service and doing things for others can be ingrained at such a young age," Prasad said. "They can help other people in different ways, even something as small as decorating a lunch box."

Sherrod Fisher, a high school senior from Auburn Gresham, came with his mom, teammates and coaches.

"For what Dr. King did and all the things he'd been through, he fought so we can have these opportunities for everybody to come together," Fisher said. "So I feel like as a senior, someone who is about to be going out into the world, I think it's important to give back."

"It is extremely important for the children to know to give back to the community, that's how the community survives," said his mother, Anniece Fisher.

"We have a model that when they leave to go to college that they must come back to the community and give back so other young people will be inspired to do the great things they are doing," said Coach Ernest Radcliffe, founder of Radcliffe's Youth Sports Organization.

For those who wish to live Dr. King's legacy of service beyond today, the HoneyComb Project is happy to connect volunteers to opportunities to serve.

Other Chicago area MLK Day events:

The village of Flossmoor is holding a day of service. Hundreds of volunteers will work on projects.

TV personality Star Jones will take part in Aurora's ceremony. That starts at 6 p.m. at East Aurora High School.

The MLK Freedom Ride starts in North Lawndale at 10 a.m. Cyclists will ride to places where Dr. King visited and worked.

The DuSable Black History Museum also has activities all day.

The Hyde Park Arts Center also has a day of events to celebrate Dr. King's legacy and honor historical Black leaders and spaces from the South Side.