King prayer breakfast in Elgin enjoys record turnout
"Either everybody counts or nobody counts" were the words Traci Ellis returned to over and over again during the keynote address she delivered Saturday at the prayer breakfast Elgin held to honor Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
Ellis, an attorney and board member for Elgin Area School District U-46, used the phrase to discuss what she believes King's vision would have been for Elgin. She said it would be a mosaic with different shapes, sizes and colors working in harmony with each other, rather than a melting pot that boils down differences to create one liquid.
One of the points she touched on was a tendency to blame illegal immigrants for the city's social problems. King, she said, would not have stood for anything that separates people into "us" versus "them" camps.
"Your anger is misplaced," Ellis said. "This country wants cheap labor ... they are victims, not the perpetrators."
Ellis also did something in keeping with the breakfast's theme of "Diversity is our strength! Unity is our goal! Empowerment is our destiny!"
She challenged the audience to bridge the racial gap by breaking bread with someone of a different race. She led by example by walking up to Kane County Judge John Noverini and asking if he'd share a meal with her -- he agreed.
The Elgin Human Relations Commission organizes the event, now in its 27th annual year. And it's as popular as ever, as the commission sold a record 250 tickets for the prayer breakfast, said Danise Habun, the commission's chairwoman and a member of the Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration Committee.
Saturday morning, the commission also gave an individual humanitarian award to to John Dalton, an Elgin attorney who has used his practice to fight for people who face discrimination on the basis of their sexual orientation. He co-founded Speak Out Against Prejudice and serves on the boards of numerous civic organizations in Elgin.
Dalton, also a board member at Elgin Community College, was 6 years old when King was killed and counts the slain civil rights leader among his heroes.
He vowed to spend the rest of his life earning the honor.
"My first thought was that I don't deserve it," Dalton said. "This award named after the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr ... it seems like it should be beyond the grasp of someone like me."
The commission also gave humanitarian awards to the YWCA of Elgin and the Elgin-based League of United Latin American Citizens Local Council #5236.
The rest of the breakfast featured scripture readings, prayers, the singing of traditional black spirituals and two performances from Agape Dance Troupe, housed at St. Sophia Greek Orthodox Church in Elgin.
"This is what Martin stood for -- diversity," Hermina Banks, the mistress of ceremonies, said after the troupe concluded its performances. "Opa!"
Elgin's celebration of King's birthday continues Sunday with a community prayer program that will be held at the Hemmens Cultural Center, 45 Symphony Way.
King would have been 83 years old Sunday.