Under the guise of wanting someone to sit with, Kai Swanson ’86 asked longtime friend Dr. John Hildreth to go with him to the Martin Luther King, Jr. Community Center’s annual celebration of the civil rights leader. Dr. Hildreth had no idea that he would be honored with the “I Have A Dream” award at the center’s 41st annual Memorial Service and Award Ceremony.
“I’m still speechless,” said Dr. Hildreth, Augustana’s Gassman Family Professor of Music. “No words can express how humbling it was. Kai is like family, and he nominated me, and I’m very grateful to have been honored.”
"More than ever, my intention is to continue to walk together with those committed to Martin Luther King’s dream and keep fighting for justice, decency and kindness."
Dr. Hildreth received the award for his "exemplary service to the Rock Island community and beyond.”
He began teaching music at Augustana in 1970. After completing studies at Concordia College and Roosevelt University, he earned his Ph.D. in musicology and ethnomusicology at Northwestern University in 1978. By 1995 he had attained the rank of full professor at Augustana.
“Throughout his time at Augustana, Dr. Hildreth has been a consistent and insistent voice for equity and justice,” said Swanson, special assistant to Augustana President Andrea Talentino.
In 1979, Dr. Hildreth organized the first Kwanzaa observance at the college, believed to be among the first in the Quad Cities region. He later helped found Augustana's Africana studies program.
As both a formal and informal advisor to the Black Student Union at Augustana, Dr. Hildreth has been a guide, mentor and companion to students and the broader campus. He has been a leader on the journey to greater inclusiveness for a college that seeks to more closely resemble the society its graduates are called to lead and to serve, Swanson wrote in his nomination.
Dr. Hildreth has participated in and helped lead teach-ins and campus protests aimed at raising awareness of social justice issues and increasing the accountability of Augustana's administrative and faculty leadership for the college's diversity, equity and inclusion aspirations.
As a longtime member of the City of Rock Island Fire and Police Commission, Dr. Hildreth has been a tireless advocate for racial justice in policing and advancing professionalism with Rock Island’s first-responder community.
“More than ever, my intention is to continue to walk together with those committed to Martin Luther King’s dream and keep fighting for justice, decency and kindness,” Dr. Hildreth said.