Leaders in education, charity, business and community gathered Monday morning at Benedictine University in Lisle for a tradition 19 years in the making, honoring the words, actions and legacy of Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.
The annual breakfast's keynote speaker said King's activism for equality regardless of race helped create heroes out of everyday people who joined the civil rights movement in the 1960s.
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"He not only walked the hero's journey, but he served as the catalyst that encouraged so many others to stand up, to cast their fears aside and make bold and daring contributions to the social revolution that transformed America," said Timothy W. Goodly, a graduate of Benedictine's doctoral program in organizational development and senior vice president of human resources for Turner Broadcasting System, Inc. "We need to remain steadfast in doing our part to help Dr. King's dream for America be completely realized."
Goodly encouraged the crowd of more than 600 to become civil rights heroes themselves as the country's demographics continue to diversify. While Goodly said race relations have made much progress since King's "remarkable and visionary speech," he said inequalities remain between blacks and whites in education, unemployment, economics, crime and punishment.
"We will need heroes, everyday heroes, to help our country transition through this change," Goodly said.
True heroism requires individuals to move beyond concerns about their own success and well-being to concerns about others and the greater social good.
Benedictine University President William Carroll challenged those in attendance, including mayors of Lisle, Naperville and Woodridge, staff members from corporate sponsor Nicor Gas and others from local schools and faith communities, not to silence the heroism they could show.
"Let the quiet hero in you step out," Carroll said. "Make a difference."
Co-sponsored by Benedictine and College of DuPage, the breakfast also awarded four students -- two studying at each school -- with scholarships in King's name.
Recipients discussed their goals of finding a better life as an engineer in America after leaving Cameroon, or teaching black history to inner-city Chicago kids or going back to school at age 48 to become a psychologist. All said King's statements inspire and motivate them, with Benedictine scholarship winner Deborah O. Afiriyie saying King's quote, "faith is taking the first step even when you don't see the whole staircase," has spurred her on her journey toward helping the less fortunate.
Carroll told breakfast attendees the event will be even larger next January for its 20th year, moving to a bigger venue on campus. The Benedictine breakfast is one of several events this week in DuPage County and across the region, as people in Aurora, Elgin, Hoffman Estates, Naperville and other towns pause to reflect on King's activism.