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Local event honors activists for Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day and hopes to inspire continued social justice work

The Countywide Celebration of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. will be held at Krannert Center for the Performing Arts this Sunday. Awards and scholarships are given out to local people in the community.

URBANA — Janice Walker is no stranger to gun violence. 

Walker said she knew many friends and neighbors who were shot and killed when she lived in both Chicago and Champaign. The most painful was when she found out that her brother had been shot and killed after breaking up a fight outside of his home. 

“I decided to make a commitment to be involved,” Walker said. “And I could do it here, which was now my new home, to just encourage people and to help them cope and deal with the tragedies that they were being faced with.”

She’s worked in many industries from public health to social work. Now, she works to prevent gun violence as a project coordinator with the Trauma and Resilience Initiative

This past month, Walker read an email that she had won the Doris Hoskins Prestigious Community Service Award given out at the Countywide Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration this Sunday.

“I was like, What? Are you kidding me? I read it again,” Walker said.” And I was like, ‘I’m being honored?’ I was totally, just totally taken aback with surprise.”

The event was created to honor the legacy of civil rights activist Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and recognize the progress being made in the community that is reflective of his dreams. Both awards and scholarships will be given out at the event. 

Visitors must show proof of vaccination against COVID-19 or a recent negative test to attend.

James Corbin II will receive the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Outstanding Achievement Award at Sunday’s event. 

Listen to a conversation between award recipient James Corbin II and IPM student journalist Farrah Anderson here.

Corbin works for First Followers – an organization in Champaign-Urbana that helps formerly incarcerated people re-enter the community. As a formerly incarcerated person himself, Corbin said he understands how difficult it can be for the people he helps to get jobs and housing.

He says the challenges formerly incarcerated people face have not changed much since Dr. King was alive.

“I wish the problems weren’t there,” Corbin said. “We’re dealing with the same issues we were 40 or 50 years ago.” 

Because finding a job is difficult for many formerly incarcerated people, Corbin said he will advocate for them to employers and help them find what they need in the community. 

Although Corbin said he’s flattered by the award, it does not acknowledge the progress that many of the formerly incarcerated people he helps are making. 

He said he’s accepting the award on their behalf. 

“I look at all the individuals such as you will probably never meet and I’m coming in contact with them,” Corbin said. “And they’re doing some amazing work.”

Medra Roberts-Southerland, the assistant director for diversity initiatives at the University of Illinois, said that it is important to see how far the community has come in working towards social justice.

But, she said it is also important to look at what more needs to be done in Champaign-Urbana.

“When we come together to celebrate King’s legacy, it’s looking at where we are and what we have accomplished, but it’s really looking at what more we still need to go,” Roberts-Southerland said.

Farrah Anderson is a student journalist with Illinois Public Media’s student newsroom. Follow her on Twitter @farrahsoa.

Picture of Farrah Anderson

Farrah Anderson

Farrah Anderson is a 2024 graduate of the University of Illinois. At Illinois Public Media, Anderson works as a general assignment reporter focusing on police and investigative stories.

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