George Lawson, the former president of the Austin Green Team, was among several Austin pastors, public officials and community activists who received Torchbearer Awards on the morning of July 12 in the newly minted Edward Bailey & Leola Spann Community Garden, at the northeast corner of Chicago and Mayfield Avenues. 

The event was part of the Chicago leg of the Sri Chinmoy Oneness-Home Peace Run, a world-wide relay race that seeks to bring people together around the vision of world-wide peace. It was founded by Chinmoy Kumar Ghose, an Indian spiritual leader best known for popularizing mediation in Western countries.  

This year, runners from all over the world ran through Canada, Mexico and United States over an 11,000-mile route. During each stop, the race organizers recognized local residents who, as the run’s executive director Salil Wilson put it, “inspired us to be better.”

In July 12, the runners made several stops throughout Chicago. Pradhan Balter, the director of Sri Chinmoy Centre [sic] in Chicago, said that the run has made stops in Austin since at least 2011.

“We’re trying to unite the whole Chicago community — north, south, east and west,” he said. “By becoming part of something bigger, you enlarge your personal strength. You’re creating strength in the community.”

The Austin stop was supposed to have a procession start near the intersection of Iowa Street and Mayfield Avenues, but a funeral procession pushed the event a block south.

The runners, South Shore Drill Team, as well as kids from local daycare centers and schools marched to the community garden, with the runners carrying the torch and the kids waving flags of Chicago and countries from all over the world.

Lawson was recognized for 50 years of community service, including serving as South Austin Coalition Community Council’s (SACCC) housing chairman, and his part in founding and leading Austin Green Team.

“I didn’t expect to get this award,” he said upon accepting the medal. “Thank you for this award. I don’t think I earned it. I think people who volunteered [on the Austin Green Team] earned it.”

Wanda Hopkins, member of the Leslie Lewis Elementary School’s Local School Council and Parents United for Responsible Education organization, was honored for her services to students and seniors. Kim Sorrells, the attorney supervisor at the Cook County Public Defender’s law office, got an award for her work with helping ex-offenders get their criminal records expunged. Minister Yvonne Townsend, of Life Line Church, was honored for her work ministering to prisoners. 

Kenneth Campbell, Jr. accepted the award on behalf of his father, Kenneth “Butch” Campbell, who passed away on April 12. The older Campbell was described as a pioneer of the West Side’s black community and a life-long activist who fought for opportunities for area youth.

“I wear the Campbell name proudly,” his son reflected. “My father passed away on April 12, but to his dying day, he was committed to this community”


Igor Studenkov

Igor Studenkov is a winner of multiple Illinois Press Association awards for local government and business reporting. He has been contributing to Austin Weekly News since 2015. His work has also appeared...