New MLK Center director sees opportunity

Posted Online: Nov. 10, 2012, 9:10 am
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By Leon Lagerstam,
ROCK ISLAND -- A developmental depot and opportunity gateway is what the new Martin Luther King Center director calls his place of business.

The Rev. Dwight L. Ford also draws much of his inspiration from the center's namesake, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

After all, Rev. Ford is a self-confessed 1954-1968 history buff and can cite classic Dr. King quotes at the drop of the hat.

Rev. Ford took over at the King Center in late September and has been busy getting immersed in the job and re-familiarizing himself with his boyhood home.

"From 3 years of age until I graduated from high school in 1988, Rock Island was home,'' he said.

When he learned about the job opening at the center, ''I didn't hesitate,'' Rev. Ford said. Taking the job was ''an investment in a community that invested so much in me.''

He also plans to open a new Grace City Church in the Quad-Cities on Thanksgiving weekend, but details must be wrapped up before he can share any more specific information about it.

Rev. Ford will share his plans for the King Center at a 10:15 a.m. forum Sunday, at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of the Quad Cities, 3707 Eastern Ave., Davenport.

''I plan to speak about the legacy of the King Center, my formation and understanding of Martin Luther King Jr., and my commitment to his legacy; and what his life has meant to me.''

Rev. Ford was the keynote speaker at a January memorial service and awards ceremony at the King Center, which, he said "reconnected me to the community.''

The reception he received then and now has been ''a humbling and cherishing experience that I count as an heirloom treasure,'' he said. ''Now, it's my responsibility to do my part and help this community I love.

''Change doesn't just roll in,'' he said. ''It requires work. We've come a long way, but still have a lot of work to do.''

Rev. Ford has been meeting with the center's board of directors to do strategic planning and is sure that any plans made will retain and highlight ''important benchmarks that have remained in place since 1975,'' he said.

''Our mission is to provide opportunities for a diverse population through a variety of programs and services,'' he said.

''But I also don't believe you can separate the building and its mission from the principles of Dr. King,'' Rev. Ford said. "It's not just a building. It's a developmental depot. It's a space to continue inter-generational services to benefit children, the working class and seasoned adults -- everyday people who Dr. King lived his life to leverage for.''

Rev. Ford emphasized the need for providing education and career tracks, and for fostering economic opportunities for people served by the center.''We need to be a gateway to opportunity,'' he said.

That includes giving people from prison another chance, he said.''We also need to always be an advocate for people who do not have a voice to speak on the issues that relate to them.''

Rev. Ford brings a wealth of experience to his new position and was selected from a field of 70 applicants.

He previously was executive director of the Eastern Nebraska Community Action Partnership in the Omaha, Neb., area, an organization quite similar to the King Center, he said.

Rev. Ford, who has a master's degree from Harvard Divinity School,also founded Grace City Church in Omaha, and has served in the pastoral ministry for more than 18 years.

'"What I do in work as a community center director, or what I do across the nation as a pastor, I do so in the understanding of the Gospel and a passion that we never lose track of suffering people,'' he said, ''and I always think about Dr. King and the legacy I inherited from him.''

The Rev. Dwight L. Ford bio box
Address: East Moline temporarily; will relocate to Rock Island within a year, as required by city statutes
Birth date: July 3, 1970
Education: bachelor of arts degree from Western Illinois University, with a focus in business management and leadership; master of arts degree, Harvard Divinity School, with an emphasis on Greek New Testament and 1954-68 public theology and influence of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
Other experience: U.S.Marine Corps, 1989 to 1995, serving in Desert Shield and Desert Storm; and has served as a pastor in churches in Sacramento, Calif., and Omaha, Neb.
Favorite Scripture: Isaiah 58:12
Favorite Biblical character I'd like to meet: Joseph, of the Old Testament
Hobbies: reading, 1954-68 historical buff; writing, physical fitness, watching sports
Peak experience: Graduation from Harvard. ''I didn't feel I was doing it for myself, but was making good on an investment of my parents and grandparents. I walked across the stage for them.''
Pit experience: ''Those long days of Desert Shield and Desert Storm, and seeing the ravages of war.''
I wish I knew how to: ''Play an instrument -- the piano.''


Local events heading

  Today is Thursday, Oct. 2, the 275th day of 2014. There are 90 days left in the year.

1864 -- 150 years ago: The ladies have adopted the fashion of wearing representations of insects in the flowers on their bonnets. Some look very natural.
1889 -- 125 years ago: T.F. Cary, former Rock Island alderman, has accepted a position as salesman for a Chicago wallpaper house and plans to move to that city.
1914 -- 100 years ago: Work on the new telephone building on 18th Street between 6th and 7th avenues is progressing rapidly.
1939 -- 75 years ago: Rock Island's new theater at 3rd Avenue and 19th Street will have a name significant of its location. The "Rocket" is scheduled to open Thanksgiving Day.
1964 -- 50 years ago: Two of Rock Island's newest water towers were vandalized last night, including the one at 38th Street and 31st Avenue, where police took five Moline boys into custody about 9 p.m..
1989 -- 25 years ago: Some of us who live in the Quad-Cities take the Mississippi River for granted, or at least we used to. But the river is not taken for granted by our visitors. And most Quad-Citians are realizing the importance of the river to this area as increased emphasis is placed on tourism.

(More History)