CRYSTAL LAKE – More than 50 years after Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech, racism still is an issue today.
However, FaithBridge executive director Budd Friend-Jones said that by uniting, listening to one another and finding common ground, people of different backgrounds still can help end racism and religious discrimination.
“In today’s world with the growing division of our country and growing hatred expressed against Muslims, African-Americans, Hispanics, the list goes on, we think it’s important to be together through celebration, music and prayer,” Friend-Jones said.
On Martin Luther King Jr. Day, hundreds of people attended the seventh annual MLK Interfaith Prayer Breakfast at D’Andrea Banquets in Crystal Lake. Eventgoers came from many different faiths – including Islamic, Hindu, Jewish, Buddhist and various Christian denominations – to share their thoughts on racial and religious discrimination. Local law enforcement officers also attended the event to learn more about their community.
“We’re trying to bring together different faith traditions and ethnic traditions in prayer to celebrate the life and legacy of Martin Luther King Jr.,” Friend-Jones said.
A major change to this year’s event from previous years, Friend-Jones said, was the keynote speaker they chose, Phyllis Unterschuetz, co-founder and president of the Race Story ReWrite Project.
“This is an unusual event this year because, almost universally, MLK events have African-American speakers talk to highlight the community, but we wanted to try something different,” Friend-Jones said.
During Unterschuetz’s presentation, she talked about how, over time, she’s learned about understanding racism and how white people need to put an end to their conscious and subconscious beliefs.
“Our role as white people is to become more aware of our racial conditioning and how it impacts others,” Unterschuetz said. “We can become aware of that by forming relationships with people of other races, and then we can heal ourselves by making decisions that prioritize unity above our own sense of wanting to always be right.”
Along with Unterschuetz, several community leaders came up to give brief speeches and calls to prayer. One of the event’s speakers was the Rev. Fred Rajan, who quoted Martin Luther King Jr. by saying, “Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”
“The more we get to know each other and hear others’ stories, the better we are,” Rajan said.
Among many religious groups in attendance was the American Muslim Community Organization, based in Lake in the Hills.
“MLK Day opens our eyes, hearts and souls to everything as Americans should be doing to make our country better in terms of race relations and recognizing other faiths,” Mushtaq Darabu of AMCO said. “FaithBridge has done a great job at honoring this day.”
Toward the end of the event, winners of the fourth annual MLK essay contest read their speeches on racism. These speeches gave the audience the chance to see a younger generation’s take on discrimination.
First to speak was Akwasi Quarcoo, of Crystal Lake-based School District 47, who talked about how African-Americans, such as himself, become stereotyped and how more people should address the issue of racism.
“People need to know you shouldn’t just judge someone by their skin color,” Quarcoo said.
After Quarcoo’s speech, Lexi Radzinski of School District 158 read her winning essay, which addressed growing up as a white girl and not truly knowing what it feels like to be discriminated against.
“I wrote about how I’ve never really experienced someone walking away from me or rolling up their car window just because of my skin color,” Radzinski said. “So I thought about what would it be like in someone else’s shoes, how we should treat people differently and how could we end racism.”