Realizing the Dream Weekend Celebrated at The University of Alabama

By Diane Kennedy-Jackson
Publications Coordinator

Tuscaloosa, Ala. — The annual Realizing the Dream weekend began with a buzz of excitement at the Bryant Conference Center on The University of Alabama campus as students, faculty, staff, community members and award recipients past and present gathered in Sellers Auditorium Jan. 13 for the Legacy Awards Banquet.

This year’s theme, Realizing the Dream Through Acts of Courage and Compassion, highlighted the 28th annual event series, which celebrates the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and which is hosted by The University of Alabama, Stillman College, Shelton State Community College and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC).

Now in its ninth year, the banquet recognizes three individuals for their efforts in promoting the ideals of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and serves as an inspiring element of this annual weekend that celebrates King’s wide-ranging contributions to America.

This year’s awardees include Fan Yang, recipient of the Horizon Award, Isabel Rubio, recipient of the Call to Conscience Award, and the Rev. Wendell H. Paris Sr., recipient of the Mountaintop Award. Some 400 in attendance were able to hear from these individuals in their own words via a video presentation created by the Center for Public Television and Radio at UA.

Yang, a PhD student in the School of Social Work at The University of Alabama, created an international pen-pal exchange that ultimately evolved into Heart Touch, a vibrant UA community outreach initiative that operates through UA’s Crossroads Community Center. Born of Yang’s heart for unity and social justice and following Dr. King’s dream of instilling a more culturally sensitive and inclusive mindset in our children, this initiative also serves as a powerful learning experience for its college volunteers and is spreading the dream beyond traditional borders to bridge the international cultural gaps at the root of global conflicts.

Rubio is the executive director of the Hispanic Interest Coalition of Alabama (¡HICA!), a nonprofit organization that facilitates the social, civic and economic integration of Hispanic individuals and families through its educational, leadership-development programs. A native of Mississippi and a third-generation Mexican American, Rubio was greatly influenced by the changes brought to the state of Mississippi as a result of the struggle for civil rights. Founder of the coalition she now serves, Rubio earned degrees in history and social work and worked in social services for eight years in the greater Birmingham area prior to founding ¡HICA!.

Paris became involved in the civil rights movement as a young man enrolled in Tuskegee Institute (now Tuskegee University) in 1961. A founding member of the Tuskegee Institute Advancement League, a campus organization affiliated with the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee, he helped register voters and participated in direct action campaigns in Alabama and Mississippi. Throughout his adult life he has been involved in a leadership capacity in activities that promote not only civil rights, but also economic development designed to sustain communities that are typically comprised of lower-income minorities. He received an honorary doctorate of humanities from the Ministerial Institute and College in West Point, Mississippi in 1978 and the Martin Luther King Jr. Man of the Year Award in 1988. In 1990, he was named a Charles Bannerman Fellow for Civil Rights and Civic Affairs. He presently serves as director of membership care and visitation with the New Hope Baptist Church in Jackson, Mississippi.

Keynote speaker John Quiñones, veteran ABC news figure and host and creator of the ethical dilemma news magazine “What Would You Do?” was the keynote speaker. Quiñones, a San Antonio, Texas native and seventh-generation Mexican American, shared the inspirational story of his life and career, from migrant farm work during his childhood to becoming the first person in his family to earn a college degree thanks to the encouragement of his parents, his refusal to take no for an answer and the hand up he received from the Upward Bound program. He ended his talk by sharing a video clip that spoke to the importance and relevance of Dr. King’s message — past, present and future. (See related story and transcript of Quiñones’ message here.)

Prior to the banquet, Quiñones and Rubio met with a select group of UA journalism and American studies students in an informal question-and-answer session that was informative, enlightening and inspiring to these young people who will soon venture out to make their own marks on the world.

The weekend’s activities continued Sunday evening, January 15, with the Realizing the Dream concert featuring legendary gospel artist Kirk Franklin. The air in UA’s Moody Music Concert Hall felt electrified as the audience waited with anticipation for the start of the performance.

At 7:30, a hush grew over the audience as Lillian Roth, SGA president at The University of Alabama, welcomed guests to the sold-out performance and acknowledged the four entities that present the Realizing the Dream activities. Shelton State Ambassador Shontray Wilson introduced the Legacy Awards recipients to thunderous applause, followed by Troy Gibson, Stillman College SGA president, who introduced Franklin.

Franklin and his band did not disappoint, captivating the audience from the first note of their performance to the last. Their concert highlighted the distinctive gospel/R&B/hip-hop style for which Franklin has become known, in what could best be described as a mash-up of concert plus worship and praise service, all at a volume that, as one concertgoer was overheard saying, “blew the walls out of Moody.” The concert concluded with the traditional singing of “We Shall Overcome,” led by Franklin and his backup singers, as well as members of area choirs that he invited to join them on stage. (See related story here.)

Prior to the concert, attendees had the opportunity to view artwork on display in the lobby. Created by students in Tuscaloosa City Schools, this annual exhibition of new work is a tradition of the Realizing the Dream Concert.

The weekend’s activities concluded Jan. 16 on the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday with a Unity Day breakfast and march, as well as the annual mass rally that evening at First African Baptist Church in Tuscaloosa.

Two additional 2017 Realizing the Dream events remain. Dr. Jonathan L. Walton, a social ethicist and scholar of religions at Harvard Divinity School, is the distinguished lecturer for this year’s series. His lecture is scheduled for Thursday, March 23, at 7 p.m. at the Embassy Suites Ballroom in downtown Tuscaloosa. The performing arts event, scheduled to run July 14–23 at the Bean-Brown Theatre in Tuscaloosa, will be Ragtime, the musical.

Tickets are not required for the lecture. Tickets for Ragtime, the musical, will be available for purchase through the Bean-Brown Theatre box office at beginning Thursday, March 30.

For additional information, visit the Realizing the Dream website, located at the UA Division of Community Affairs webpage at

The Division of Community Affairs was created in 2004 and is recognized nationally and internationally for its leadership in community engagement. The division provided the leadership for the recent reaffirmation of the University’s Carnegie curricular and community engagement classification. The division also publishes the Journal of Community Engaged Scholarship, one of the leading refereed journals in the field.