ELKHART — The city’s annual celebration of Martin Luther King Jr.’s legacy got off to a spirited start Saturday as a handful of youthful and experienced leaders were honored for their work.
A diverse standing-room-only crowd packed the Historic Roosevelt Center in Elkhart for an afternoon of music, activities, food and appreciation that was part of an event known as “Honoring King’s Legacy in Elkhart Today; Creating the Beloved Community.”
The Rev. Theodis Hadley Sr. was honored with the “Drum Major for Justice” lifetime achievement award.
Hadley has left a mark on many people through his work in the church and community, according to organizers.
Hadley, seated in the front row of the gymnasium, received a standing ovation, a plaque and a dozen roses in honor of his work over the years.
City Councilman Brent Curry offered his congratulations and said Hadley has provided good advice to him and many others.
“It’s easy to say good things about Rev. Hadley because he does a whole lot of good things,” Curry said. “He’s done so much to help others.”
Hadley, the longtime pastor of the Canaan Baptist Church in Elkhart, stepped into his role as a church leader and offered some sage commentary.
“I don’t care how good you’ve done, you can do better,” Hadley told the crowd. “I don’t care how far you’ve gone, you can go further. I don’t care how well you have lived, you can live better. I don’t care how much you’ve spent, you can spend less,” Hadley said, drawing cheers and applause.
The Drum Major award is based on King’s “Drum Major Instinct” speech, delivered in 1968, in which he urged people to seek greatness through service and love.
Representatives of the People’s History of Elkhart, which organized Saturday’s event, then turned attention to a group of young people for the day’s second honor, the Jericho Road Award for transformative change.
This year’s spotlight for the award was directed to seven young adults who participate in the Indiana Dream Initiative, a student-led organization in the Michiana area that promotes fellowship and empowerment for a further education regardless of legal status, according to the group’s website.
The group has been active locally in working on scholarships and helping empower young people.
The Jericho award is geared toward honoring people who work toward overcoming injustice and is based on King’s “Beyond Vietnam” speech, delivered in 1967.
The event also included a talk by Michael Zimmerman Jr., the tribal historian for the Pokagon Band of Potawatomi Indians who told of some of the local history and connections the trib has with Elkhart.
Several musical groups and a hip-hop dance troupe performed and a three-part mural highlighting the themes of love, unity and hope was painted.
Jason Shenk, one of the organizers, said afterward that the turnout exceeded expectations. Organizers had to open up an extra block of bleachers in the gym to accommodate the crowd, which was bigger than last year when the event featured Dr. Vincent Harding, a friend and colleague of King’s.
Shenk said they ran out of programs and suggested the crowd exceeded 200 people.
“Even more than the numbers,” Shenk said, the day’s events exemplified “the ways to celebrate all sorts of things that make up a beloved community.”