The Rev. Martin Luther King speaks at Stone Temple Missionary Baptist Church in 1966. Credit: Courtesy Stone Temple Missionary Baptist Church

NORTH LAWNDALE — The historic Stone Temple Missionary Baptist Church will continue its tradition of celebrating Martin Luther King Jr. Day by hosting a virtual ceremony Jan. 18.

Each year, the church’s celebration of King’s birthday follows a theme drawn from the civil rights activist’s life. This year’s theme is Uniting Together, which comes from a speech where King said, “We all came in on different ships, but we’re all in the same boat now.”

The MLK Day Celebration begins 10 a.m. Monday. To register, email for a Zoom link.

The Rev. Martin Luther King at Stone Temple Missionary Baptist Church with Rev. James Marcellus Stone. Courtesy: Stone Temple Missionary Baptist Church Credit: Courtesy Stone Temple Missionary Baptist Church

Last year, West Siders banded together to support one another and build solutions to issues like food access and economic instability, which has been aggravated by the pandemic, Stone Temple Rev. Reshorna Fitzpatrick said. The Martin Luther King Jr. Day celebration will encourage residents to build from that unity and continue to grow together, she said.

“We’re uniting together to make sure that we’re stronger. That is the purpose of this year,” Fitzpatrick said. “Everybody brings something to the table. You bring what you bring and together we can have a beautiful feast.”

Stone Temple’s annual celebration began six years ago as way of commemorating King’s legacy in North Lawndale.

King lived in a rundown apartment building at 16th Street and Hamlin Avenue when he came to Chicago to support the fight to end redlining and substandard housing. During that time, King preached at Stone Temple and helped organized Lawndale’s Black community to fight for racial equity.

“He stayed in the community to show people that I’m not separated. I’m a part of you. … We’re going to do this thing together,” Fitzpatrick said.

Dr. King at 1550 S. Hamlin. Courtesy: Lawndale Christian Development Corp. Credit: Lawndale Christian Development Corp.

King’s time in Lawndale set a standard for how community work must meet residents where they are at since they are the experts on what their community needs, Fitzpatrick said.

“You cannot be separated from the people you’re trying to help,” Fitzpatrick said. “You’ve got to see how they live. You’ve got to see what makes them tick. You’ve got to see how they breathe and what’s important to them.”

Last year’s event focused on restorative justice and featured speeches from county State’s Attorney Kim Foxx and Timothy Evans, Cook County Circuit Court chief judge.

YouTube video
Stone Temple’s annual MLK Day event in 2020. Video by Maia McDonald.

The celebration typically opens with a community breakfast that brings together the predominately Black families who live in the area with residents from Lawndale’s past as the heart of Chicago’s Jewish community.

Though the breakfast is impossible this year due to the coronavirus pandemic, participants will still be able to build fellowship across communities and share ideas during the virtual event’s breakout sessions. Sessions will be led by the North Lawndale Historical and Cultural Society and the Jewish Community Relations Council.

Those conversations will explore how Lawndale’s history is intertwined with King as well as King’s gospel of unity, said Blanch Killingsworth, head of the historical society. Killingsworth’s session will include a discussion on how Lawndale was affected by the assassination of King and the riots and disinvestment of the West Side that followed.

“He came to us in a time when we needed leadership, we needed hope. And when he was killed, it was like a torch got blown out. The light that we believed was going to be a change for our neighborhood,” Killingsworth said.

Pascal Sabino is a Report for America corps member covering Austin, North Lawndale and Garfield Park for Block Club Chicago.

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