The staff at Advocate Christ Medical Center in Oak Lawn honored the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. as Rev. Smokie Norful, the Grammy Award winning Gospel singer, performed Monday during the 24th Annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Multicultural Taste Celebration.
“Over the last 24 years, the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Multicultural Taste Celebration Committee has planned and executed a multicultural/spiritual celebration held in honor of the life and work of Dr. King,” said the Rev. Richard James, the ACMC staff chaplain.
The committee consists of 10 members, eight Advocate employees and two honorary members whom are retired.
The annual celebration is held in honor of King, who was the driving force behind the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s. He gave his famous “I Have a Dream” speech before a massive group of civil rights marchers who gathered around the Lincoln memorial in Washington, D.C. on Aug. 28, 1963. He was shot and killed by an assassin on the ledge of a Memphis hotel on April 4, 1968. He was 39 years old.
James said the first celebration back in 1995 had a modest 19 participants, but it’s progressively grown. The Robert N. Stein, M.D. Auditorium could have been mistaken for a sanctuary from all the handclaps and halleluiahs heard throughout Norful’s heartfelt and sometime humorous message. The 300- seat auditorium could not accommodate the crowd. People lined the walls and stood in doorframes poking their heads through.
Ken Lukhard, president of Advocate Christ Medical Center, was moved by Norful. He clapped his hands to the tune of his music and nodded his head through his message.
“Where I’m from, this is what they call church. I’m going to take a drive out to Bolingbrook to visit your church within a few weeks,” Lukhard told Norful after shaking his hand afterward. “That was excellent.”
Norful garnered international success after three of his albums, “I Need You Now,” “Nothing Without You” and “Smokie Norful Live, “obtained number one status on the Billboard charts. His trophy case includes awards named, Steller, Dove, Soul Train, NAACP and a Grammy.
He has sold over two million albums worldwide and was Billboard’s Gospel Artist of the Year twice, in 2003 and 2004. Norful composes for himself and numerous other Gospel artists. He also a Senior Pastor of Victory Cathedral Worship Center in Bolingbrook.
Lukhard’s sentiment was echoed from various others who patronized the event. John Poindexter, of Chicago and self-proclaimed musician, said he used to work with Norful years ago. “It was good seeing him, he did great. You know, I know Smokie personally. We used to serve together in music ministry at Greater Institutional, off of 78th and Indiana. He played piano and I played drums,” said Poindexter.
According to Poindexter, Norful has remained grounded. “I haven’t seen Smokie in over 15 years, but I spoke to him today and he remembered me. He was just as gracious and humble as he’s always been.”
Each participant received a complimentary copy of Norful’s latest CD entitled, “Smokie Norful Forever Yours.” He said he wanted everyone to know he’d personally autographed each one. “It took hours,” he told James. “I signed over 300.”
Maryann Valdez, of Tinley Park, said this was her first time she heard Smokie Norful. “My sister Vicky invited me. She’s on the committee. I had no idea what to expect. I was mesmerized. He’s a dynamic speaker, I thoroughly enjoyed him,” said Valdez.
Vicky Tanulanond-James is the sister Valdez is referring to. She is also the spouse of Rev. Richard James. They act as co-chairs. He secures the speaker and she heads the Taste.
“The Taste includes homemade ethnic dishes donated by hospital associates, including 16 local restaurants and vendors whom also make donations,” said James.
In total, James said more than 500 people circulate through the multicultural Taste. “We do this with the help of our committee and several volunteers within and beyond the hospital, with support from Media Services, Public Relations, Food and Nutrition, Public Safety, Environmental Services, Building Operations, and Communications.” Careful not to exclude anyone, James said, “We also get help from the Culture of Inclusion Committee, we focus on uniting our associates, physicians, volunteers, patients, and families in rejoicing in their own ethnicity and commonality.”
“This Dr. King celebration acts as a reminder of how far we’ve come and also, the work that still lay ahead,” added James.
Lukhard was forthcoming about what this event means to him.
“Dr. King’s legacy is one that is iconic and timeless. Each year I think it can’t get any better and then it does. Even in this bitter cold, people still came out. Look at this crowd,” he said staring into a full auditorium. “We celebrate diversity here at ACMC. We take initiative to educate on all faiths. It is our objective to deliver world class care on a foundation of faith.”