Posted Online: Jan. 19, 2008, 11:12 pm

Augustana event honors MLK

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By Stephen Elliott, selliott@qconline.com

More photos from this shoot
Photo: Gary Krambeck
Youth members of the Praise Dancers of Second Baptist Church in Rock Island dance to a tribute song during the "A Celebration in Honor of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr." held Saturday evening Jan. 19th at Centennial Hall on the Augustana College campus in Rock Island.
More photos from this shoot
Photo: Gary Krambeck
The Westbrook Family Singers with members, from left, Delores Westbrook Tingle, Cynthia Westbrook Bryson, Brenda Westbrook Lee and Gary Westbrook sing out with gospel songs as they bring the crowd to their feet at A Celebration in Honor of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. held Saturday evening Jan. 19 at Centennial Hall on the Augustana College campus.

ROCK ISLAND -- Their voices reached octaves not usually heard, and their harmonies brought people to their feet during Saturday's tribute to Martin Luther King Jr. at Augustana College's Centennial Hall.

The Westbrook Singers, a Quad-Cities gospel group that has appeared throughout the country on gospel television programs and concerts, gave their home crowd a boost of energy.

"You know what, the reception at home really says a lot," said Gary Westbrook.

Along with his sisters Brenda Westbrook Lee, Delores Westbrook Tingle and Cynthia Westbrook Bryson, the Westbrooks had fans young and old standing and cheering, smiling and clapping to their uplifting voices.

"It's a long story," Gary Westbrook said from their dressing room afterwards. "She (Delores) is really at the pinnacle of it. When we were younger, the 11 of us, we often shared space.

"In order to get into her particular bedroom, you had to sing your part. Music is in her blood. So, you had to learn your part and learn your part right.

"If you got kicked out for not being able to sing, it was really taboo."

The Rev. Charles and Mrs. Barbara Westbrook formed the group in Rock Island in 1975 and began performing gospel for church functions and other community events. The Westbrook children have recorded only two albums, but plan on releasing a live recording in the spring.

"We haven't ruled out the fact that we could earn a decent living," Gary Westbrook said. "Fame and fortune wasn't necessarily at the forefront.

"We recognize we have a gift from God, and that's the way we display our talents. We've been blessed with good jobs locally and haven't had to really worry about singing for our supper, so to speak."

Their tribute to Dr. King was the night's feature event, but there were other tributes that brought responses from the audience of several hundred people. Berlinda Tyler-Jamison, a member of the Rock Island County NAACP, hosted the event.

She spoke of Dr. King's commitment to civil rights and to justice. She said the event has been a successful partnership between Augustana College, the Martin Luther King Community Center in Rock Island, and the local NAACP.

Jerry Jones, executive director of the Martin Luther King Community Center, said Saturday night's event was an opportunity to share a message of hope with each other.

In the crowd, Rock Island residents Jesse and Toni Thomas and their children, Jasmine, 8, and Jesse Jr., 17, watched the tributes, the choirs from the Community Gospel Chorus and Augustana College perform together.

"Basically, it's a big part of the community to participate in something that means a lot to black society and society as a whole with programs like this," Mr. Thomas said. "We're just giving back what we can."

"It's one way of letting our children know how far our African-American community has come. Although we have a long way to go, people can unite and celebrate Dr. King's legacy together in different forms."

The King Center in Rock Island is scheduled to have a celebration of Dr. King's life at 10:30 a.m. Monday.