2021 Martin Luther King, Jr. Celebration to Reflect on Positions of Conscience

The City of Champaign is sharing this press release from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in order to more broadly share information about this exciting event (and the keynote speaker) with our community.  The City is a member of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Countywide Committee.

2021 Martin Luther King, Jr. Celebration to Reflect on Positions of Conscience
The Rev. Dr. William J Barber II to speak as part of the MLK Advocacy for Justice Virtual Celebration, Sunday, January 17 at 3:00 pm.

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. – Two longstanding Champaign County committees, Martin Luther King, Jr. Countywide Committee and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Advocacy for Justice Committee, Inc. unite this year to honor the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. for the 2021 Annual Countywide Celebration. This year’s theme is “Rising Together: Facing the Challenges of Tomorrow Today.”

Highlighting the 2021 event will be an address by the Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II, President & Senior Lecturer of Repairers of the Breach and Co-Chair of the Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call For Moral Revival. Rev. Barber will be the keynote speaker during this year’s Annual Countywide Celebration on Sunday, January 17 at 3:00 pm. He will speak to the Champaign-Urbana and Rantoul community live from his office in Goldsboro, North Carolina.

During a year defined by COVID-19, the pandemic has directed a new light on the persistent and insidious twin crisis of systemic racism and generationally embedded racial disparities afflicting our society. This year’s celebration is also a common and shared call to action for everyone in the community to commit to the hard work necessary to end racism and social injustice.

“In a year when our entire county has come together to face the challenges of COVID-19 with a level of collaboration and cooperation that is unmatched in our nation, it is so very appropriate that we honor the life, spirit and hope of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in this single celebration of unity as well,” said Chancellor Robert J. Jones. “And it is extremely exciting that this milestone event will be further elevated by the participation of the Rev. Dr. Barber – one of the leading voices for equality and social justice in our nation today.”

The program will also include an awards presentation to community organizations and leaders from across Champaign County for their commitment to humanitarianism and community service. The program will also recognize the Advocacy for Social Justice MLK Jr. Scholarship recipients from Champaign and Urbana school districts. More information about this virtual event is at https://go.illinois.edu/MLK2021. A link to watch the Sunday, January 17 celebration event will be posted on this page and is open to the public.

This year’s University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign celebration of the life and work of civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. will feature nearly three weeks of presentations, activities, and discussions reflecting on what it means to speak from a position of conscience, this year’s events are inspired by a quote from a speech by Dr. King on February 6, 1968: “There comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular.” Highlights include a discussion with Joy Ann Williamson-Lott, author of Black Power on Campus, The University of Illinois, 1965-1975, a presentation by David Northern, CEO, Champaign County, Housing Authority of Champaign County, and MLK Creative Writing Contest.

Due to current COVID-19 social distancing requirements, this year’s events will be virtual and open to all through online platforms. A full calendar of events is available at https://go.illinois.edu/MLK2021Calendar. Pre-registration may be required to receive links to some events.

About the Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II
The Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II is the President & Senior Lecturer of Repairers of the Breach, Co-Chair of the Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call For Moral Revival; Bishop with The Fellowship of Affirming Ministries; Visiting Professor at Union Theological Seminary; Pastor of Greenleaf Christian Church, Disciples of Christ in Goldsboro, North Carolina, and the author of four books: We Are Called To Be A Movement; Revive Us Again: Vision and Action in Moral Organizing; The Third Reconstruction: Moral Mondays, Fusion Politics, and The Rise of a New Justice Movement; and Forward Together: A Moral Message For The Nation.

Rev. Dr. Barber is also the architect of the Moral Movement, which began with weekly Moral Monday protests at the North Carolina General Assembly in 2013 and recently relaunched again online in August 2020 under the banner of the Poor People’s Campaign. In 2018, Rev. Dr. Barber helped relaunch the Poor People’s Campaign, which was begun by Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in 1968, starting with an historic wave of protests in state capitals and in Washington, D.C., calling for a moral agenda and a moral budget to address the five interlocking injustices of systemic racism, systemic poverty, the war economy and militarism, ecological devastation, and the false moral narrative of Christian nationalism. There are currently 45 state coordinating committees across the country, mobilizing around the Poor People’s Jubilee Platform and We Must Do M.O.R.E. (mobilize, organize, register, and educate people for a movement that votes).

On June 20, some 2.5 million tuned in on Facebook alone for the campaign’s Mass Poor People’s Assembly & Moral March on Washington, which originally was scheduled as an in-person event but switched to digital because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Thousands of others watched and listened on C-SPAN and other media.

A highly sought after speaker, Rev. Dr. Barber has given keynote addresses at hundreds of national and state conferences, including the 2016 Democratic National Convention. He has spoken to a wide variety of audiences including national unions, fraternities and sororities, motorcycle organizations, drug dealer redemption conferences, women’s groups, economic policy groups, voting rights advocates, LGBTQ equality and justice groups, environmental and criminal justice groups, small organizing committees of domestic workers, fast food workers, and national gatherings of Christians, Muslims, Jews, and other people of faith.

Rev. Dr. Barber served as president of the North Carolina NAACP, the largest state conference in the South, from 2006 – 2017 and currently sits on the National NAACP Board of Directors. A former Mel King Fellow at MIT, he is currently Visiting Professor of Public Theology and Activism at Union Theological Seminary and is a Senior Fellow at Auburn Seminary. Rev. Dr. Barber is regularly featured in media outlets such as MSNBC, CNN, New York Times, Washington Post, and The Nation Magazine, among others. He is the 2015 recipient of the Puffin Award and the Franklin D. Roosevelt Four Freedoms Award, a 2018 MacArthur Foundation genius award recipient, and he is one of the 2019 recipients of the North Carolina Award, the state’s highest civilian honor.