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Speaker: MLK celebrations need meaning

Hundreds turn out for sold-out Springfield event.

Dr. Rev. Martin Luther King’s birthday is a time to celebrate but also a time to rethink democracy, according to a former city staff manager.

Selena Singletary, the former Director of Human Relations, Housing and Neighborhood Services who worked for the city for 31 years, offered the keynote speaker to 275 people at the 31st annual MLK Jr. commemoration, held Friday at Hollenbeck Bayley Creative Arts and Conference Center.

Singletary, a Wittenberg University graduate, retired in 2006. During her tenure, Singletary helped create programs such as Minority Business Development, neighborhood programs, Fair Housing, Mediation and Housing Rehabilitation.

For over 20 years, Singletary has served on the board of the national Paul J. Aicher Foundation, also known as Everyday Democracy, which promotes study circles to talk about race and later 9-11. These talks led to CultureFest and to the creation of the city’s Global Education and Peace Network.

Singletary said King’s birthday is a reason to celebrate but should also have a purpose.

“There’s still work to be done,” Singletary said. “The celebration must have some meaning.”

Last year, Singletary volunteered to register voters. She was surprised at the number of people who weren’t excited about the election because they felt legislators weren’t aware of their needs.

“I wondered: Is there a feeling of disconnect?” Singletary asked.

At a later Everyday Democracy meeting, Singletary said they spoke of topics like compulsory voting and civic engagement and education among youth as ways to spark interest among voters.

“There is a need to rethink democracy and re-imagine democracy as self-governance rather than self-government,” Singletary said.

She mentioned the Civil Rights Movement’s Montgomery Bus Boycott as an example of the value of mass meetings of individuals, which Dr. King recognized as an important part of society.

She urged participation in study circles and volunteerism in organizations to help produce meaningful change.

“Let us not only celebrate the birth of Dr. King, let us work to assure that his dream and legacy lives on,” Singletary said.

Clark State Community College President Dr. Karen Rafinski, who will retire this summer, was awarded the MLK Leadership Award.

The SonShine Club, an after-school program designed to bring the message of Jesus to elementary school students, was awarded the Outstanding Creative Youth Programming Award. The program was created by Urban Light Ministries’ Dr. Eli Williams 20 years ago and now has after-school groups at 12 local schools led by volunteers from churches and the Salvation Army.

The program was presented by the city’s Human Relations Board and Clark State.

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