Father Brown at MLK Celebration

Father Brown, center, speaks speaks at the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Community Celebration in Carbondale on Sunday. Carbondale Mayor Mike Henry stands to his right, and Murphysboro Mayor Will Stephens is on his left.

CARBONDALE — Over the years, people have teasingly called Father Joseph Brown a troublemaker.

He’s not going to accept that label anymore, he told the 400-some people gathered at the 19th Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Community Celebration on Sunday afternoon. The SIU Africana Studies professor was awarded with the 2018 Spirit of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Community Service Award at the Sunday evening event at the Carbondale Civic Center.

“I get really tired of people thinking they can make a joke when they look at me and say he’s the troublemaker — 'ah, ha, ha, oh, he’s just a troublemaker — ha, ha, ha, here comes the troublemaker,'” Brown said. “It ain’t funny. Fifty years ago, a ‘troublemaker’ got murdered, and we’re here honoring that?”

“I tell people, don’t do that to me anymore — 'cause that’s not respectful,” Brown said. ”If you go to the doctor’s office and he says, ‘I’m very sorry, but you have all of the manifestations of having Stage 3 cancer,' the doctor is not a troublemaker. Maybe those two packs of cigarettes a day were.

“But whatever we have become addicted to, when somebody says you got to stop — enough is enough — don’t call them a troublemaker — change."

Brown told the gathering he’d like to see a similar event held April 4, the day King was assassinated, to commemorate the “whys” of his murder and how King lived. Brown, an East St. Louis native, is a Catholic priest who has earned post-graduate degrees from Johns Hopkins and Yale, and taught at the University of Virginia, Xavier University of Louisiana and Creighton University before coming to SIU Carbondale.

“If we do not know how to let the least of our brothers and sisters be heard with authority, we’re going to lose that campus, this city, this state,” he said.

“I did not come here to be a troublemaker. I came here to speak the little bit of truth I saw with my eyes. Now people, if you think enough of me to give me this award, you might want to think enough that I’ve been telling the truth.”

Past recipients of the award have been Ann Marie Shepherd, community supporter and advocate; Margaret Nesbitt, one of the co-founders of the I Can Read! literacy program of Southern Illinois; Dr. Ella Lacey, community activist; Pepper Holder, community activist and former radio talk-show host; Hugh Muldoon, peace activist; and others.

The gathering also heard songs from the Martin Luther King Community Choir, under the direction of Greta Matthews, and a choir from the Boys and Girls Club of Carbondale and watched the S.T.O.M.P. youth and adult liturgical dance ministries from New Zion Baptist Church in Carbondale.

The gathering attracted a diverse crowd, of all ages, races, faiths and ethnicities and hometowns: youth and young adults Tiana Myers, Marlo Brown and Maryam Makhdoom read from parts of King's speeches.

In addition to the community and youth choirs, music provided by Teresa 'Mama T' Pankey of Harrisburg and saxophonist Henry Herron of Victory Christian Fellowship in Murphysboro.

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Stephanie Esters is a reporter covering Jackson and Union counties.

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