Augustana Observer

Augustana Observer

Augustana Observer

Hildreth receives “I Have a Dream” award

Just over 61 years ago on Aug. 28, 1963, Martin Luther King Jr. gave his infamous ‘I Have a Dream’ speech. In Rock Island, King is being remembered and honored by community members at the Martin Luther King Center (MLK Center). This year, the MLK Center celebrated their 41st annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. memorial service, where John Hildreth, Augustana professor of music, received the “I Have a Dream” award.

Rock Island’s MLK Center is a community center and a non-profit social services agency that offers assistance and after-school programs to Quad Citizens. Rebecca Arnold is the resource development manager of the MLK Center.

“We have a series of events every year that we hold for the community,” Arnold said. “One of them is this annual memorial service and awards honoring the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King.”

This event, which occurs on Jan. 15, Martin Luther King Day, includes scholarship grants, a youth expression contest, a keynote speaker, musical selections and the presentation of the “I Have a Dream” award, given to a Quad Citizen based upon service and contributions to the community.

“The ‘I Have a Dream Award’ is really the biggest award of this event every year,” Arnold said. “We always like to plan it so the person who is being honored doesn’t know that they’re being honored so that they’re surprised.”

Kai Swanson, special assistant to the president, nominated Hildreth and kept the MLK Center’s tradition of surprising the recipient.

“I think if I said, ‘Hey, Doc, would you please come because we’re gonna give you an award,’ he would find an excuse to not be anywhere near Rock Island that day,” Swanson said.

Swanson worked with Hildreth’s son to get Hildreth to come to the award ceremony without arousing suspicion.

“All I told him was, ‘I think they’re gonna give Augie some recognition,’” Swanson said. “I said, ‘I don’t want to be the only one down there.’”

Under the guise of inviting Hildreth to attend the event to keep Swanson company, Hildreth sat in the audience unknowingly awaiting his award. Hildreth said that even after receiving the award, the shock of receiving the award remained. 

“I was humbled, and the only thing I could think about was, ‘Am I worthy of this award?’” Hildreth said.

Swanson said he nominated Hildreth for many reasons, including his involvement in Augustana’s first Kwanzaa celebration as well as his service as both a formal and informal advisor for the Black Student Union and African American students at Augustana.

“There have been times in our campus’ history when there have been issues of racial tension,” Swanson said. “He has been a voice of peace and reconciliation and justice, and he steps in and helps everyone to see that where we are is not where we want to be as a community.”

Hildreth noted how far Augustana has come since he began his work as a professor.

“I was the only person of color on the faculty here for many years,” Hildreth said. “I came on the campus in some rather turbulent times because Augustana was adjusting to new realities… demographics were changing on campus.”

However, Hildreth  said he believes that we still have much more to do as a community to allow for true equity.

“The battle goes on,” Hildreth said. “We need to rededicate ourselves to the dream of Dr. King because it is very much needed at this time.”

Swanson acknowledges that the “I Have a Dream Award” represents Martin Luther King Jr.’s vision, which he said hasn’t been fully fulfilled yet.

“We can recognize that we’re still not there yet,” Swanson said. “We’ve got a ways to go to build a community where equity and inclusion, justice and diversity and fairness just go without saying.”

Though Hildreth accepted the award, he wants to emphasize King’s vision above his own actions.

“It’s not so much about me,” Hildreth said. “I think it’s about whose name it was given in, that means Dr. King’s name, and I can only hope that I can be worthy of the award.”

Leave a Comment
More to Discover

Comments (0)

All Augustana Observer Picks Reader Picks Sort: Newest

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *