Simeon Wright remembers the summer of 1955 like it was yesterday. It was the summer his second cousin Emmett Till was snatched from Wright's Mississippi home.
"That summer I learned what a deposition was, and I learned never to tell a lie," Wright said. "I never had to take back my story."
Wright was one of several speakers who shared his story in the barn at Sgt. Means Park in Olympia Fields. His main message was to tell kids to stay in school and to remember to help black Americans.
"These days kids have a lot of help that we didn't have growing up," Wright told the crowd. "But there are still a lot of inequities out here. . . Make sure you stay in school."
Wright's book, entitled Simeon's Story, is his personal eyewitness account of what happened the day Emmett Till whistled at a white woman in the South during the Jim Crow Law era. The book also explains what happened the night two white men came to pick up his now famous late relative from his Mississippi home. Wright said he was laying in bed right beside Till that night.
"After that night we never again saw him alive," Wright told the crowd.
Wright said he wrote the book to eradicate misconceptions about what happened to Till and to keep the verdict at the forefront of our minds, especially on Martin Luther King Day. But the writer wasn't the only guest with a lesson for the kids.
Retired NBA Player, Duke University Team MVP and Crete-Monee High School graduate Phil Henderson also spoke to the small crowd gathered in the Sgt. Means Park Barn. Henderson said he hoped to inspire kids to focus on school, not texting, video games and the opposite sex.
"I am not telling you [about my professional career] to brag. I'm a pretty modest guy. I am telling you because you can do it too," Henderson told the kids after he asked some of them to move to the front row. Looking at the youths directly, he added, "Basketball was my girlfriend, I took that basketball with me everywhere. My friends used to always talk about me. But I don't care how good a girl looks, she can't get me a scholarship."
Henderson said his family, who lived in University Park, didn't have a lot of money when he was growing up and in order to go to a good school, he knew he had to get a basketball scholarship.
"I ate, slept and drank basketball and it started at Crete-Monee High School," Henderson said.
The former Dallas Maverick now lives in Park Forest and credits Dr. King and other famous thinkers for his interest in both philosophy and history. He later went on to obtain an inter-discplinary degree. Henderson says he hopes to bring his non-profit basketball camp to Olympia Fields.
This was the first annual Dr. King event sponsored by the Olympia Fields Park District. Rogers Jones of the Roseland Safety Network, a group that works with hundreds of inner city teens, also spoke. His rap/dance group Havoc Footwork Crew and Swagg Boyz performed.
Recreation director Becky Brewer said she worked hard to make the event happen, because she couldn't find any other major events in the area. Brewer said she hopes the event gets bigger and better every year.