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Dixson, Gunn ‘Honored’ To Be Featured Speakers At Peoria MLK Ceremony

Peoria Journal Star executive editor Romando Dixson, left, and Peoria Area Chamber of Commerce president and CEO Joshua Gunn are  the featured speakers in Monday's 35th annual Dr. Martin Luther King Freedom March and Commemorative Service.
Peoria Journal Star executive editor Romando Dixson, left, and Peoria Area Chamber of Commerce president and CEO Joshua Gunn are the featured speakers in Monday's 35th annual Dr. Martin Luther King Freedom March and Commemorative Service.

Two men who have made history in leadership positions with prominent Peoria institutions will be the featured speakers for Monday’s 35th annual Martin Luther King Freedom March and Commemorative Service.

Peoria Area Chamber of Commerce president and CEO Joshua Gunn and Peoria Journal Star executive editor Romando Dixson are the first Black men to hold their respective positions. Dixson says their appointments are noteworthy strides toward increased diversity and inclusion throughout society.

“We’ve come so far since Dr. King's message, and obviously we have more to go and there are more things we can do,” said Dixson. “But I think it's important to reflect on that progress with these kind of milestones we see.”

Dixson, who graduated from a Detroit high school named for King, said he was “honored” to be chosen as a featured speaker along with Gunn, who is also enthusiastically grateful.

“I don't think that it would be possible for me and others to sit in these types of seats were it not for leaders like Dr. King,” said Gunn. “So, to even have an opportunity to speak on our experience as a part of something like this is a great honor. I’m super stoked about it.”

Dixson said with heightened attention on social justice over the past year coupled with a volatile political climate, it’s as important now than ever to heed King’s words and actions.

“Dr. King was about peaceful demonstration. Dr. King was about improving inclusion and people having their own progress,” said Dixson. “In the current times, I think his message of love and patience and the progress of Americans, regardless of the color of their skin, I think it's a very important message.”

Still, Gunn believes tangible societal change requires more than just symbolic gestures. He said Black people remain disproportionately negatively impacted by income and education gaps, and criminal justice enforcement.

“What we really need is true systemic change to address the inequities across systems that we share. So a lot more progress has to be made,” said Gunn. “On Dr. King Day, we honor the work that Dr. King and other leaders did and the progress they made. But it's important for us to realize that the work has to continue.”

Gunn said he and Dixson are playing an important role in helping achieve King’s ultimate goal: “creating a world where all races can work together, where there’s an equity of opportunity and we eliminate barriers and we create a more liberated and more equitable world.”

In observance of public safety, this year's MLK commemoration will feature a vehicle parade starting at 2 p.m., followed by a drive-in service in the Manual High School parking lot at 2:30. Cars participating in the parade will line up at 1:30 p.m. at Bradley University’s Garrett Center.

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