Elgin Area School District U-46 board member Traci O'Neal Ellis received Elgin's 2018 Dr. King Humanitarian Award while Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White was honored with its Dr. King Legacy Award at a prayer breakfast Saturday during the city's 33rd annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration.
Ellis' recognition was but one example of the event's emphasis on education. In fact, the other nominee this year was also a representative of U-46 -- Ronald Raglin, assistant superintendent for educational support programs and alignment.
As the recipient of the city's Dr. King Legacy Award, White had also been scheduled as the breakfast's keynote speaker but was forced to cancel due to illness. He was represented by his daughter, Glenna White Jones.
She spoke of how her father met King through a friend he'd made at Alabama State University, and how much the civil rights leader influenced his life of public service.
Though he'd won an athletic scholarship, it was unusual for a Chicago native like White to travel to the south for college at that time, his daughter said.
"He learned nonviolence was the way to go," Jones said. "His meeting with Dr. Martin Luther King inspired him to do all the things he's done."
That includes 16 years in the state legislature, two terms as Cook County recorder of deeds, 20 years as secretary of state, and his establishment of the Jesse White Tumbling Team. During its 59 years so far, the team has helped support and guide 17,000 young people, Jones said.
She said her father has remained dedicated to helping others, encouraging those around him to make sure they do something good for someone else every day.
"He walks it like he talks it," she said.
In accepting the Dr. King Humanitarian Award, Ellis said she was overwhelmed but would continue to recognize King's call to action.
"What words can I use to describe the honor even to be nominated?" she asked. "This award represents Dr. King's reminder that it isn't always enough to shake one's head at injustice."
Ellis also recognized the dedication to King's message of her fellow nominee, Raglin.
"He's quietly but fiercely doing the work of Dr. King every day," she said.
Ellis is also a graduate of U-46 as well as executive director of human resources for the Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy.