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updated: 1/19/2012 12:01 PM

DuPage NAACP leader honors King's local legacy

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  • DuPage County NAACP President Mario Lambert examines a plaque of Martin Luther King displayed in the lobby of Pfeiffer Hall at North Central College in Naperville. It commemorates a speech King gave there in 1960.

      DuPage County NAACP President Mario Lambert examines a plaque of Martin Luther King displayed in the lobby of Pfeiffer Hall at North Central College in Naperville. It commemorates a speech King gave there in 1960.
    Scott Sanders | Staff Photographer

By Mario L. Lambert II
President, DuPage County Branch of the NAACP

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was a man who embodied an intellectual, emotional and spiritual connection to the movement for civil rights. His bold and selfless demonstrations of civility and love for all people ignited a change of heart all across the nation, including right here in DuPage County.

In 1960, just three years before being jailed in Birmingham, Ala., he spoke in Naperville at North Central College's Pfeiffer Hall by way of invitation from former college chaplain and local legend the Rev. George St. Angelo.

St. Angelo boldly defied many who did not welcome the civil rights activist's visit. On that day, St. Angelo showed the courage to bring an unwelcome voice to this community because he believed it was the right thing to do.

He also believed in the responsibilities that come with leadership, such as creating awareness, promoting equal opportunities and advocating for fairness.

As the city of Naperville and surrounding areas in DuPage County grew into booming populations and became great places to live, work and raise families, our community discovered it was behind the national barometer of how diversification was supposed to look and feel. This is not only by way of racial or gender representation, but the reality that many in our community remain unaware and intolerant of differences … unwelcoming to diversity.

Thankfully, other great leaders emerged locally to represent colleges, corporations and government. Soon, St. Angelo was just one of many people throughout the surrounding area who taught fellow DuPage citizens to see through a different lens, from a different perspective.

What formed was a group of advocates who committed themselves to integrating a belief in equality into the fabric of the community because -- from family rooms to institutions -- discrimination and racism unfortunately exist.

Looking at how far we've come is why it is important to see how amazing it must be to step out of the norm, challenge the status quo and be "different!" To represent the American dream with boldness. To make unselfish choices for the benefit of others. To speak up for those who don't have the resources or the platform. To stand against rules and approaches that keep people from accessing fair opportunities.

This day represents the ideals of the American dream, where one nation under God is the prevailing mission, and the people can enjoy equality, liberty and justice. While Martin Luther King Jr. Day is a special day of remembrance, it also is a day to begin or renew responsibility of purpose through continuous dialogue and action.

We must challenge ourselves to seek beyond our comfort zone, listen with our hearts and minds, and dare to be "different." Because we know that discrimination and racism still exist, we know that something must be done.

Our nation intends to be a land of liberty and justice. In this same spirit, the promise of our local community is to offer the best of education, careers, friendships, activities and culture for all.

For decades, great leaders like King and St. Angelo have bridged the gaps from where we were to where we need to be, and hopefully, they will continue to do so as long as there is injustice in the world.

But we are all welcome to be a part of this journey. Let us celebrate our victories together, but also let's begin or renew our purpose, and look forward to affirming America's promise.

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