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Rev. James L. De Loatche Receives Dr. M. L. King, Jr. Commemorative Service Leadership Award

The King Holiday Committee of Peoria presented its annual Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Commemorative Service Leadership Award and MLK Drum Major Awards at the 36th Annual Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Commemorative Service held at Bethel United Methodist Church following the MLK Freedom March on Monday, January 20, 2020.

Rev. James L. De Loatche was honored with the prestigious Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Commemorative Service Leadership Award. The award goes to an individual or group that has made a significant recent contribution having great impact on our community.

He knew death even before his young son died in a tragic house fire. He served in the U.S. Army, fought in some of the bloodiest battles of the Viet Nam War, including Hamburger Hill. He saw death all around him. Somehow he survived.

When he retired from the Army, he was a captain with two Purple Hearts, three Bronze Stars, badly damaged legs, and a bullet in the back of his neck. He spent many years recovering from the physical and mental wounds of battle. “So many years later and I still need that support,” he said in a 2013 interview for the Illinois Veterans Oral History Project.

He saw death up close and personal in Vietnam. And he had to learn how to recover. A generation later, death came close when his son died in the house fire. Once again, he had to learn how to go on. He and his family realized young people need support to overcome their losses also… whatever those losses might be.

His son was only 11 when he died. The boy loved basketball. A few months after the funeral, his family, with help from their son’s former basketball coach, reached out to other young people about the same age as their son.

Today, their son would be 31 years old. There is something about love and basketball. For the past 20 years, they’ve shared his love with young people in a free summer basketball camp.

Hundreds of young people have learned basketball skills at the six-week camp. But they’ve also learned leadership skills and the importance of teamwork. The camp sponsors a family picnic and an awards banquet for the kids and their families. Over $10,000 in awards have been presented. And to think – little boy’s parents maxed out their credit cards to get the first ones started.

The basketball camp is the Julius DeLoatche Basketball Camp, named in honor of the son of the Rev. James and Relmer DeLoatche.

The 2020 MLK Drum Major Awards

Evonne Fleming, Drum Major Award for Political Action and Advocacy. She was the first black employee in the Peoria County Recorder of Deeds Office and is now the chief deputy clerk in the Peoria County Clerk’s Office. When she got involved in her union, she ended up as an officer in a larger labor council. Her union work also led to her work with a local political party, where she ended up as president of the party’s women’s club. She became chairwoman of Peoria’s Neighborhood Alliance, a member of the steering committee of the Regional Neighborhood Network, an officer of the West Central Illinois Labor Council, a board member of East Bluff Community Center and president of the Peoria Democratic Women’s Club. All that could only happen because she’s so willing to serve. Her path has not been easy. There have been setbacks in both her public and private life. A son was murdered. Then her long-time partner was murdered. But somehow, she always found a way to move forward, a way to do more.

Reuben Cummings, Drum Major Award for STEM Excellence and Innovation. He understands the language of computer programming and coding. He’s a freelance web and software developer. He left Peoria after graduating from Manual Academy. He returned recently with the knowledge he gained from graduating from MIT, one of the top colleges in the nation. He brought back the experience he gained working in Tanzania and with Fortune 500 companies, agencies, and business start-ups. He thinks globally and acts locally. Whether he’s in Tanzania or Peoria, he has the same passion for data and entrepreneurship. He is a founder of Arusha Coders and the Greater Peoria Data and Analytics Community. He is on the board of Greater Peoria Innovations Alliance. He also founded a consulting firm, the Nerevu (Nay-RAY-voo) Group. Nerevu is Swahili for intelligence.

Peoria Minority Breast Health Advisory Group, better known as the Susan G. Komen Peoria Circle of Promise, Drum Major Award for Community Advocacy. This circle began with a promise from one friend to another. It has grown into a legacy of sisterhood. This circle, a group of women, is probably best known for an annual breakfast, which is March 28 this year. About 500 people attend each year, mostly women, mostly black women. And it’s mostly black women that this circle was designed to reach. Black women aren’t the only ones they reach, but it’s black and brown women who are most in need of the kind of care and healing this group promotes. They are not medical doctors, but they do healing work. They know and understand so well because they’re survivors themselves. Or they’ve helped someone else survive, and they want to help more. The circle began when Shalonda Knox made a promise to her friend, the late Tammy Dudley Davis. A promise made. A promise kept. A promise that has been giving for ten years.

Donna Crowder. Drum Major Award for Community Service. All the volunteer work she does is remarkable, considering she works three — sometimes four — jobs at the same time. She is one of the few Circle of Promise board members who has not been diagnosed with breast cancer. She also volunteers with Central Illinois Impact, a group of women who donate money to needy causes. On her own and with friends, she collects toiletries and other items for a cause close to her heart — women in the Peoria County Jail. “I guess what inspires me is giving back to the least likely,” she says. Her main job is a social and emotional learning coach for middle school students. The fact that it allows her to work with many children who might be considered the “least likely” is a miracle every day, she says. The same is true of the people she works with in an adult education program. You’ll see her working and serving on Sundays also — at the popular soul food buffet called Sexy Little Eatery. Her journey from the least likely to the most likely is a testament to the true Drum Major instinct. Anybody can lead because anybody can serve.

Sheriff Brian Asbell. Drum Major Award for Criminal Justice. In many ways, he represents a different kind of law enforcement officer. He knows it’s not enough to just lock people up. He knows the criminal justice system, as we know it, must change. As the leader of a local law enforcement agency, he has many duties. But the main one is to build and maintain the community’s trust. It’s the kind of trust that has helped him build relationships with groups as diverse as the Peoria Police Department and the NAACP. It’s the kind of trust that led many black Democrats to vote for him even though he’s a white Republican. Under his leadership, we have the county’s first black female superintendent. The jail’s inmates have ongoing access to job training and counseling for mental health and substance abuse. They also have access to other kinds of counseling and resources intended to lower the chances of them returning to jail. He just hired an employee whose main job is to advocate for those returning to the community after jail time. He may not agree with every idea for criminal justice reform, but he’s also a public servant who says, “Focusing on rehabilitation and reducing recidivism is a no-brainer.”

Tremayne Branch. Drum Major Award for Exemplary Entrepreneurship. He’s been cooking chicken wings since he was eight years old. He started during the summers he spent with his father, who owned a restaurant in Memphis. He’s 42, and he has two restaurants in Peoria. He’s getting ready to open two more — another one in Peoria and a fourth one in Champaign. He’s also getting ready to open a lounge/bar on south Adams where he’ll offer live music and spotlight local chefs twice a month. He sells thousands of chicken wings a month and employs about 30 local residents. He’s done a lot in five years. And he’s done it all on his own dime. No business loans, he says. He’s not the type that gives up. Now, he owns a growing chain of restaurants named after his grandfather, R.B. Moore. The lounge he’s about to open on south Adams is “Della’s Lounge,” named in honor of his grandmother, Mandella Moore.

Yes, if you want to say that I was a drum major, say that I was a drum major for justice; say that I was a drum major for peace; I was a drum major for righteousness. And all of the other shallow things will not matter.” These are the words of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King.