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When she first rallied a group of volunteers to share a meal and roll up their sleeves for local agencies on Martin Luther King Jr. Day in 2018, Shelbi Hoover wanted to begin a new tradition of community service.
But she also hoped to spark dialogue about tolerance and the rest of the message King preached during the civil rights movement.
“I wanted to see Crawfordsville grappling with a difficult conversation, a conversation that isn’t necessarily comfortable to have — that people aren’t thinking about,” said Hoover, organizer of the Realizing the Dream Dinner sponsored by Humans United for Equality.
As the public gathers next weekend for the third annual event, formerly known as the Beloved Community Dinner, Hoover believes volunteerism isn’t yet deeply rooted in local culture. But she sees a new opportunity for starting the broader conversation.
Over a soul food dinner at Crawfordsville Middle School, residents will discuss matters of identity and recognize the contributions made by King and other black leaders. Musical performances are scheduled from Maria Cristina Monsalve, Yao Li and the Second Baptist Church youth praise team.
“I would like to see the conversation not just stop after dinner on Sunday. I’d like to see us revisit this throughout the year,” Hoover said.
The change in attitude about race is “night and day” between now and the early 1980s, when Steven Jones moved to Crawfordsville to attend Wabash College. Jones now serves as director of Wabash’s Malcolm X Institute of Black Studies, which has participated in the dinner.
“It is rare that you find individuals that are willing to embrace you in many respects as a minority student,” Jones said, “so the affirmation and love that is received from those who attend the dinner on an annual basis makes the students feel at home.”
Another local group will observe King’s legacy Wednesday. Voices for Peace will lead a silent candlelight vigil from 5 to 7 p.m. at the Peace Pole in Pike Place.