Robert S. Ellington-Snipes, Kankakee County Board member, was presented with the Lifetime Achievement Award last month during the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Foundation’s annual celebration.
Since the foundation’s establishment in 1990, the event has taken place each year around Dr. King’s birthday. This year’s event was held over three days and consisted of virtual and in-person celebrations. Ellington-Snipes explained that the event was originally celebrated at Olivet Nazarene University.
However it was later moved to the Quality Inn due to the university not recognizing Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday as a university holiday. The university has since recognized the date, and the foundation will again be holding the event on campus next year.
Ellington-Snipes was presented with his award during the Annual Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Interfaith Prayer/Ecumenical Ceremony on Jan. 18, which was this year’s recognized date of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day.
The event included welcome speeches from Sen. Rep. Patrick Joyce, 79th District State Representative Jackie Haas and Mayor Chasity Wells-Armstrong.
The foundation kept news of the Lifetime Achievement Award a secret up until the event. During the presentation of the Coretta Scott King Music Award, Ellington-Snipes learned that he would be receiving the prestigious award the following day.
“It was an honor,” said Ellington-Snipes. “I was honored and humbled.”
Ellington-Snipes developed the Coretta Scott King Music Award when he began his work with the foundation years ago. There is generally only one recipient, however, this year there were two due to the fact that the winners often work as a team and agreed that they couldn’t accept the award unless the other half of the team was recognized, as well.
The two recipients were Obert Davis (originally of Momence), an Emmy-Award winning trumpeter, composer and co-founder, conductor and artistic director of Chicago Jazz Philharmonic, and Mark Ingram (originally of Pembroke), an Emmy-Award winning producer.
Ellington-Snipes reflected on his years-long friendship with Davis, as the two attended Momence High School at the same time in the late ‘70s. During the awards, Davis even reminded Ellington-Snipes of a time in high school when Davis was home sick for a few weeks and Ellington-Snipes would walk for miles to bring Davis his assignments.
“We both graduated [the same year], we were both born in 1960,” said Ellington-Snipes of he and Davis. “Here we were 60 years old and it was almost like a graduation date and like we were getting our diploma.”
Ellington-Snipes is originally from Chicago. He and his family moved from to the city’s Roseland area when his mother passed away shortly after. He and his siblings were put into a foster care system, and Ellington-Snipes was taken in by a family who lived on a farm in Momence.
Ellington-Snipes credits both his boyhood work with the Boy Scouts and his time working on the Momence farm to what made him the volunteer and community member he is known as today. He said that, as a child, he was taught, “You don’t just take, you must always give back.”
His thought process with giving back to the community and investing in the lives of others is that he is planting seeds that will later produce a harvest.
“If you help someone, they help others,” said Ellington-Snipes.
In addition to his work with the county board, Ellington-Snipes has been involved with Kankakee Community Services Inc., Kankakee County Housing Development Corporation and is president of the African American Improvement Association.
He also has an extensive background as a vocalist performer and would often perform for nonprofit organizations including the Easter Seals Telethon and the Make A Wish Foundation.