For the past three decades, the Rev. Fred Starling of Faith Temple Church of God in Christ has helped organize an annual gathering that celebrates the life of Martin Luther King Jr.
This year's ceremony, which starts at 5 p.m. Monday on the lower floor of Memorial Auditorium, will the 30th annual iteration of the event.
Starling isn't planning on changing things up to recognize that anniversary. King's eternal message of love and equality stands on its own, and is as important now as its ever been.
"We can't forget him," Starling said. "Dr. King was a bridge for all races. He realized we can live together and unite our forces. The rich can help the poor. The poor can help the rich. We all have something to offer."
Youth mentor and community activist Bryon K. Oden-Shabazz will be the featured speaker this year. He's an adviser for five student organizations at Western Illinois University. One of his mentor groups, The Sacred Circle Mentorship Organization, was designed to help African-American students navigate campus life and to understand the culture of higher education.
"Sacred Circle provides a safe space with a culturally sensitive support center to discuss students' progress, frustrations and needs, without criticism, but with honest feedback," Oden-Shabazz said.
Raised by a single mother in Detroit's public housing, Oden-Shabazz was the program director of the all-black, male juvenile treatment program at The African American Alternative Center, as well as the resident services manager for the McDonough County Housing Authority. He's been a regular speaker at prisons, organizing life skills and incarceration release preparation workshops for inmates.
Starling said bringing such a highly regarded speaker to Burlington would be impossible without the local businesses that sponsor the annual event. The event is organized by the Burlington Area Council of Churches, the Burlington Human Rights Commission, the NAACP and Faith Temple.
"We seem to have different people attending every year," Starling said.
The event is free and open to everyone.