STERLING – Irene Lewis Wimbley sang out "if we got to start somewhere, why not here."
About 75 to 100 people gathered at Sterling's First Presbyterian Church on Sunday to honor Martin Luther King Jr. and recognize those who are "living the dream," or making a positive impact in their community.
Sterling residents Janet Freed, Dr. Hasmukh Shah and the late Barbara Smith were given Living the Dream Awards for making a difference in their communities.
The third annual event sponsored by the YWCA of the Sauk Valley on the eve of Martin Luther King Day, also featured an art show, volunteer fair and several music performances.
Winning an award presented at a celebration of King's vision was extra special for Shah, whose own trip to Atlanta in 1996 to learn about King inspired him.
Shah started a free health care clinic, Agape Care Team Health Services, in 1997 in the basement of the Rock River Christian Center in Rock Falls. The clinic had to close its doors in November.
"I came to understand Martin Luther King when I visited Atlanta and that year desired to be an instrument of God," said Shah, who said he also grew up in India admiring the teachings of Mahatma Gandhi. "That's when I started the free health care clinic for those who could not afford it."
Freed, who was chosen for her work with BLIND, a school program that helps students embrace diversity and see everyone as a fellow human being, said winning an award with King's name on it is an honor.
"He gave us an example of how we should treat people," Freed said of the slain civil rights leader. "He taught us to stand up for those that need our voice in our society in a positive way."
Unlike the others, Smith's award came posthumously, "but her legacy still lingers and blesses the community," said the Rev. Carol Fitzgerald of First Presbyterian. Smith and her husband were founding members of Macedonia Baptist Church in 1960 and she was active in the Church Women United group.
Her sister Alice Collins accepted the award on Smith's behalf and said her father taught them at a young age growing up in the South to share.
"Everyone had one face," Collins said. "(My father) had a farm and could grow a good crop, and he always rose enough crop to share. We shared with the ones who took it from our field and took it out to the others who needed it."
Mayor Skip Lee, who was in attendance, said Sunday's festivities are important to remind people how far society has come since Jim Crow laws in the South, where he was raised, and to show what can be accomplished through activism.
"There's still discrimination and racism, but I have hope," Lee said. "We've got to keep hope."
Winners of the art competition were:
Grade School – Marcuise Chattic, "No Violence"
Middle School – Libby Feldman, "I Have A Dream"
Adult – Jayne E. DeMarko, "Martin Luther King Jr."