ROCK ISLAND, Ill. — As the nation celebrated Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day, community leaders and students will celebrate the 40th memorial celebration and award ceremony at the Martin Luther King Center in Rock Island.
Dr. King was a national icon who fought for equality for African Americans. After what one community leader calls a "racial awakening" following the murder of George Floyd in 2020, communities like the Quad Cities have begun conversations on diversity and equality.
“I think that has caused people to think a little bit more critically about it. their attitudes, how they show up their beliefs and how they maybe have thought about things in the past,” said QC Chamber CEO LaDrina Wilson.
On Wednesday, Jan. 11, the City of Rock Island announced it will officially recognize MLK Jr. Day as a holiday, 37 years after it was recognized on the national level.
Although the effort was appreciated, Wilson and MLK Center Executive Director Gerald Jones said more work needs to be done for inclusion in the area.
According to 2021 Census Bureau reports, almost 3,000 African American residents have left the Quad Cities and almost 1,500 residents left Rock Island County.
Jones said there needs to be more focus on the action rather than the conversation of inclusion.
“DEI really talks about challenging some of the historic systems are in place," said Jones. "And that's a real paradigm shift. And that means being willing to listen to the sea change and to not just assimilate, to seek assimilation, but to seek accommodation.”
Wilson stressed that inclusion in the workspace is essential. She said there’s been an increase nationally in Black women-owned businesses but there is still room for improvement locally.
“Coming up with some strategies, goals, and priorities around how to diversify their supply chain, how to diversify their procurement, how to diversify their hiring, with the intention of looking at those populations that have historically been locked out, and making sure that they don't have barriers in place that are prohibiting or reducing the likelihood of people seeing themselves in certain jobs or certain opportunities,” said Wilson.
Right now the MLK Center offers several grassroots programs for you and adults in the QCA ranging from after-school programs to COVID-19 testing and vaccine assistance.
Jones said the MLK Center plans to open a STEM and arts programs in spring 2023.
“And we're excited about that because it'll be another great resource that our kids will have access to. But the model we're pursuing is that this will be a resource for this community to have access,” said Jones.
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