NFL linebacker, Birmingham mayor highlight King dinner in Hoffman Estates
A remembrance dinner held Saturday in Hoffman Estates honored national and local figures -- including an NFL linebacker and the mayor of Birmingham, Alabama -- for their courage and leadership in continuing the fight for equality led by Martin Luther King Jr.
This was the 50th annual remembrance dinner held by the Arlington Heights-based Illinois Commission on Diversity and Human Relations; it aims to honor King and his activism.
"This is a historic night," said the Rev. Clyde Brooks, who chairs the Illinois Commission on Diversity and Human Relations. In the 1960s, he worked with King as a member of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.
This year's event Saturday at the Chicago Northwest Marriott drew more than 400 people -- municipal, business and faith leaders from throughout the region, including Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle.
"People have awakened to the need for civil and social democracy," Preckwinkle said in her brief remarks, "and it is my hope that the stars shine through."
The evening always features awards, and this year's courage award went to Brandon Marshall, a linebacker with the Denver Broncos.
"I never played for the Chicago Bears," he quipped to the crowd, separating himself from the former Bears wide receiver with the same name. "I actually have the Super Bowl ring, which I brought with me."
His tone changed when he described the 2016 season, when he knelt on the sidelines during the playing of the national anthem, and what prompted him to stand up staring with the 2017 season.
"I spoke to the Denver Police Department, and I visited the schools," Marshall said. "Once I saw the Denver police change its use of force policy, I felt I had had hand in it. I thought, 'That's a win'."
Randall Woodfin, the mayor of Birmingham, Alabama, gave the evening's keynote address. He was elected in October, after defeating the incumbent mayor, William Bell, in a runoff election. Woodfin previously had served as president of the Birmingham City School Board, and he talked about bringing about change by investing in the youth.
"I was humbled to walk the same campus as Dr. King," Woodfin said of his years at Morehouse College in Atlanta. "I know the importance of servant leadership and to go back home to your community and make a difference."
Woodfin reflected on his decision to return to his native city after college and law school and become involved in the city's resilience.
"Fifty years later, we have a lot of work to do," Woodfin added. "And as the mayor of an urban city, I'm on the front lines of the work that needs to be done."