Hubbard urges audience, “If you see a good fight, get in it,” at King event

January 18, 2016

Lisle, Illinois ~ The Honorable Arnette R. Hubbard, judge of the Circuit Court of Cook County and noted champion of justice, social change and civil rights, recalled her first taste of activism Monday during a speech at Benedictine University.

"Some high school friends and I decided to bring our lunch so we could save our money," she said. "So we were four, by the end of the week we were about eight or 10, and by the next Monday we were in the principal's office who wanted to know why we were boycotting. We told the truth. 'We're not. We're just saving money.'"

"What did we do? Naturally, we gave him our list of demands," Hubbard said. "It worked. Better food service courtesy of the people who were serving us who used to hurry us along. We had class after that. That was my first taste of that and it worked, so I never quit. If there's a good fight, I get in it."

Hubbard addressed more than 600 people who gathered at Benedictine University on Monday for the 21st Annual Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Breakfast hosted by Benedictine University and College of DuPage.

Born in Stephens, Ark., Hubbard earned a bachelor's degree from Southern Illinois University at Carbondale and a Juris Doctor from the John Marshall Law School in Chicago.

"I had lots of fun in college," said Hubbard, drawing laughs from the crowd. "I learned to play bridge better and pinochle and learned to dance better. I love to dance. But I also went to classes, and I was pretty good at it, too.

Hubbard related the story about a professor who called her into the office to encourage her to pursue zoology, although the future judge only took the course to fulfill a requirement. However, the sales pitch ended when the professor told Hubbard that by excelling in zoology, she could be a "credit to her race."

"That's where she lost me," Hubbard said. "I already was. I was in college. I had a family who was proud of me. I wanted somebody who would say to me, 'You could make a difference in the world.' It does not have to be monumental because everything you do that is good changes the energy of the universe."

Hubbard spoke of the "power of ones" and that one person can make a difference. She talked about how her grandfather, Joe Arthur, a landowner and notary public, influenced her. She talked about how her single mother influenced her, and how her mother's sister influenced her by financing her college education.

"My mother was wise and wonderful and strong and an excellent mother while just a teenager and single," she said. "She knew what I needed and what everyone needs to know is that you're valued and you're valuable, and that is the source of my strength right now because I know I'm somebody. She did that."

Hubbard said that one way people can make a difference is by voting.

"Voting is a passion of mine," she said. "The power of the vote ties into the power of one because you vote individually in that box, and if you stop to think about your power and what you can do both by your decision and by the collective one, you will know you make a difference every time you go out to vote."

To illustrate how one vote can make a difference, Hubbard related a story about the passage of the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution that granted women the right to vote.

"The 19th Amendment was decide by one vote (the Tennessee House of Representatives ratified the amendment 50-49 to provide the final ratification necessary to add the amendment to the Constitution)," she said. "The story goes that some 26-year-old guy came in and he was the swing vote, and his mother said, 'Boy, you better vote for women.' And so he did. That's the story. I believe it."

Hubbard served on the three-member Chicago Board of Election Commissioners beginning in 1989, and in 1992 she became the first African-American commissioner elected president of the Association of Election Commissioners of Illinois. As an election commissioner, she met a young man who would later become one of the most influential figures in U.S. politics.

"I received a call from someone who wanted to talk to me because he wanted to learn about elections," she said. "I said, 'Yes.' That excites me. The year was 1990. So he came to see me and he said he wanted to go out with me on some of my voter registration efforts. We were doing them all over the county. That young man was Barack Obama. Who knew he would become president?"

Hubbard challenged those in the audience to think about what they would do with their "power of one."

"Think about what you would do next with your power of one to change America," she said. "Encourage somebody, look at them differently, talk to them, recommend them, give them an opening. Refuse to be silent. Refuse to be a silent witness to a wrong.  

"When we do these things, Willie Nelson says this is the promised land. That every one of us has a place in it. Use your power of one to make this the America that never was, according to (poet) Langston Hughes, but yet, must be, and with your help, will be."

The event also included the presentation of four $1,000 scholarships. Recipients were Benedictine University students Destiny Jones, a senior Exercise and Sports Studies major and the daughter of Anthony and Jennifer Jones of Lake in the Hills, and Marleen Wadie, a freshman Engineering Science major and the daughter of Maged Ayyad and Amal Habib of Downers Grove, and College of DuPage students Yajaira Baez and Yuliya Guydeychuk.

The event was punctuated by a performance from Keith M. Kelly, executive director and lead instructor for the Spoken Word Academy of Chicago and an award-winning arts educator, poet and musician. Kelly performed three short works honoring King.

"Honoring dreams means making real life plans," he said. "Dreams deferred, squandered opportunities. Because each day is a chance to dream a new dream. So plan on making your dreams realities. Or they'll become rain checks, never redeemed. Living a dream don't just happen. Explain. By all means dream. Then build your promised land."


Benedictine University is located in Lisle, Illinois just 25 miles west of Chicago, and has branch campuses in Springfield, Illinois and Mesa, Arizona. Founded as a Catholic university in 1887, Benedictine enrolls nearly 10,000 students in 56 undergraduate and 19 graduate programs. Forbes magazine named Benedictine among "America's Top Colleges" for the fifth consecutive year in 2015, and the University's Master of Business Administration (M.B.A.) program is listed by Crain's Chicago Business as the fifth largest in the Chicago area.

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