CHAMPAIGN — The man who took over Barack Obama's seat in the Illinois Senate when the future president was elected to the U.S. Senate in 2004 says that providing only money isn't enough to solve society's challenges.
State Sen. Kwame Raoul, D-Chicago, said Americans seeking to follow the footsteps of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. also require a change of heart to bring about the "genuine brotherhood" the civil rights leader pursued.
Raoul was the keynote speaker at the 11th annual Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Countywide Celebration on Friday at the Hilton Garden Inn in Champaign.
"We may make a small donation here and there, but we do not truly acknowledge genuine brotherhood," Raoul said. "Dr. King said, 'True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar.'"
Raoul, a son of Haitian-born immigrant parents, noted that suffering continues today in Haiti two years after an earthquake rocked the island.
"I hope that people are still seeking to help Haiti after Anderson Cooper and Sanjay Gupta and the cameras have left," Raoul said. "The problems will still be there. You just can't fling coins and expect problems to disappear."
Raoul said one way to bring about the brotherhood King wanted for America is for the people of today to be willing to experience discomfort for a greater good.
"If you visit Haiti, you will feel discomfort at the poverty there," Raoul said. "But you will come back a changed person, and you'll be dedicated."
Raoul challenged the people attending Friday's celebration to pursue their own dreams to the best of their abilities.
"Many people will tell you, if you work hard enough, you can be the next Martin Luther King, or if you work hard enough, you can be the next Barack Obama," he said.
"I don't care how hard you work; you can't be the next Martin Luther King or the next Barack Obama. But you can be the best you."
State Sen. Mike Frerichs said Raoul embodies many of King's qualities.
"He is one of the strongest voices for justice in the state of Illinois," Frerichs said.
Three local community leaders also received awards at the celebration for their efforts with community activism.
Carlos Donaldson, former president of Service Employees International Union Local 119, received the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Outstanding Achievement Award, given to those who work for social justice "in the spirit of Dr. King," according to a press release.
Alfred Anderson, chairman of the Housing Authority of Champaign County board of commissioners, received the Doris Hoskins Prestigious Community Service Award, given to those who engage in volunteerism.
Donna Camp, a founder of the Wesley Evening Food Pantry, received the James R. Burgess-Susan Freiberg Humanitarian Award, which honors people who have alleviated human suffering in the community.