BY MARLYS E. WEAVER
GOSHEN -- The day before Barack Obama's inauguration, programs at Goshen College celebrated the impact of Martin Luther King Jr. and the continuation of his work on the national and local levels.
This year's activities emphasized the history and present-day issues of civil rights and racism in Elkhart County.
Monica Tetzlaff of the Indiana University-South Bend Civil Rights Heritage Center offered historical background, while local families, including Adam and Maggie Williams' family, shared stories of racism in Elkhart County.
Adam Williams grew up in Alabama, but "never experienced outrageous racism" until he moved to Elkhart, including a cross-burning in the family's front yard.
"The cross burning was the head of two years of racism," he said.
A few days before, Williams' daughter, Gabriela, stepped off the school bus outside her home while a neighbor commanded her pit bull to sic the young girl. The dog chased Gabriela all the way from the bus to her house as the neighbor yelled death threats.
Because of their experiences, the Williamses are some of many area residents calling for hate-crime legislation in Indiana.
Stacie Meyers-Ray was another who shared her stories of racism during programs at the college Monday.
Meyers-Ray lived near the headquarters of the Church of National Knights of the Ku Klux Klan in Osceola. She and her children would hear gunshots regularly and witnessed large rallies of the members in their "hoods and robes," while some in the neighborhood experienced personal threats.
Meyers-Ray said in an interview that, despite what people might think, "this sort of activity hasn't gone away."
In response to an audience question about why someone would oppose hate-crime legislation, Meyers-Ray responded that the phrasing of the currently considered bill, Senate Bill 0091, includes the protection of individuals no matter their sexual orientation. Including this has deterred many people, she said.
The day also included a performance by Triple G Mimes and a poetry reading by students and faculty.