To The Herald-Whig:
As we approach Martin Luther King Jr. Day, I want to encourage people to take a moment to reflect upon and recognize the contributions and philosophy of King – a man who peacefully stood for equality – rejecting bigotry and segregation.
King served as one of my earliest mentors. I first met him when I was a student at Alabama State College in Montgomery, Ala., in the early 1950s. Leaving Chicago for Alabama brought many challenges and frustrations due to segregation. African-Americans were not allowed to drink at certain water fountains. We were prohibited from sitting in certain seats on buses and banned from eating at many restaurants.
Following the lead of King, Rosa Parks and other civil rights leaders, I participated in the Montgomery Bus Boycott that ultimately led to the desegregation of the public transit system. This peaceful protest taught me the importance of perseverance and working together toward a common goal.
During my time at Alabama State College, I attended a small church in northern Montgomery where King served as the pastor. I had the privilege of listening and observing him firsthand.
To this day, I remain impacted by his teachings. His values and dignified behavior continue to inspire and resonate with me.
More than 57 years ago, I established the Jesse White Tumbling Team as a way to give back to the community and to help young people in need of support and guidance. I became a teacher and a public servant because of my desire to help others.
The influence King had on my life is immeasurable. I cannot imagine becoming the first African-American to hold the office of Illinois secretary of state without King's influence on me and on society.
I urge Illinoisans to reflect upon the legacy of King and join me in espousing several philosophies I practice in emulation of King: Never discriminate or dislike someone because of race, creed or color; do something good for someone every day; and when you become successful in life, give back to those less fortunate. If we do these things, we honor King through our actions.
Illinois secretary of state