Guest Speaker Dr. Julian Bond speaks to the audience during The Remembering the Life and Legacy of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. event at West Aurora High School in Aurora, IL on Monday, January 20, 2014 | Sean King / For Sun-Times Media
Updated: February 23, 2014 6:26AM
AURORA — “The truth is that Jim Crow may be dead, but racism is alive and well.”
There may be a black man in the White House, but the Civil Rights struggle so many fought for in the 1960s is far from over, Civil Rights activist Julian Bond told the crowd at Aurora’s Martin Luther King Jr. celebration at West Aurora High School.
More than 1,000 came out to hear Bond’s message Monday night.
A longtime U.S. representative and senator, Bond has held many hats in the Civil Rights movement: one-time chairman of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, first president of the Southern Poverty Law Center, distinguished professor and grandson of a slave.
But first? First, Bond was a student.
Bond was mentored personally by King during his time at Morehouse College. Bond was a key figure in the youth movement and served as the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee’s national communications director during the heart of the Civil Rights era.
More than 50 years later, Bond told the crowd in Aurora that while the country struggles toward greater efforts and grander victories, “we still are being tested by hardships and adversities.”
Most noticeable today, perhaps, is the economic disparity that exists between groups of American citizens. The top 10 percent of earners made more than half of the income in 2012, Bond said, the highest level recorded in the last century.
“The gap grows between the haves, have mores and have nots,” Bond said. “People of color, of course, are more likely to be poor than rich, and they are worse off than their white counterparts.”
Median income of white households is larger than black and Hispanic households, Bond said. The ratio continues to grow, he said.
Almost every social indicator, from birth to death, reflects the black/white disparity that exists in the United States today, Bond said.
Infant mortality rates are 134 percent higher for black Americans compared to white Americans; chances of imprisonment are 570 percent higher for black Americans; death caused by homicide is 493 percent higher for black Americans. Blacks are 33 percent less likely to have health insurance and 53 percent less likely to hold a college degree, according to Bond.
America, a young country, endured 246 years of slavery and 100 years of state-sanction discrimination, before the Civil Rights Act and Voting Rights Act ended segregation in 1964 and 1965, he said.
“For roughly 50 years only have black Americans been granted the full rights of Americans,” Bond said — since legal segregation ended nationwide, the right to vote universally guaranteed and laws of the Constitution universally extended to everyone.
“We are led to believe that 246 years of being someone else’s property, followed by 100 years of legal oppression in the South and discrimination in the North, we are being asked to believe that all that can be wiped away by five decades of half-hearted remediation and one black president,” Bond said.
We are asked to believe that we are a healed and whole nation, he said. But there is more work to be done.
Thousands gave to the Civil Rights Movement, facing bombs in Birmingham and mobs in Mississippi. They marched and organized, he said, sharing with King an abiding faith in America, Bond said.
“King didn’t march in Montgomery by himself. He didn’t speak to an empty field during the March on Washington. There were thousands marching with him, and before him, and thousands more that did the dirty work that preceded the triumphant march,” Bond said. “Racial justice, economic equality, world peace. These are ideals that occupied Dr. King’s life. They ought to occupy ours today.”
As part of the city’s MLK Day celebration, 17 Aurora students “who go above and beyond to give back to the community and the world” were honored with the city’s Service Above Self awards. Those students were: Isabell Acosta, East Aurora High School; Ilana Alcala, Washington Middle School; Symone Barnes, Jefferson Middle School; Jazmin Barron, Simmons Middle School; Dymin Cannon, West Aurora High School; Al-Karney Dunah, Jewel Middle School; Tionci Greene, Jewel Middle School; Vidal Griffin, West Aurora High School; Eric Hernandez, Washington Middle School; Micah Hook, Simmons Middle School; Justin Huberty, Jefferson Middle School; Fairayn Kimbrough, Success Academy; Emily Manko, Herget Middle School; Alexis Moreno, Herget Middle School; Daniel Nabors, East Aurora High School; Brandon Rogers, Success Academy; Kurt Zepeda, Marmion Academy.
The entire Waubonsie Valley High School Mosaic Choir also received the Service Above Self award Monday night.
Also taking part was the West Aurora High School Jazz Band, the East Aurora High School NJROTC, the Illinois Math and Science Academy’s Black African-American Student Association, the Aurora Inter Faith ecumenical group of faith leaders, and the Sign Singers of St. John AME Church.