If you don't know Willie Summerville, he's usually the guy behind the piano with a smile on his face and a song in his heart. The kids he teaches now are younger than he was when his classical education began.
"I didn't start 'til I was 12 and I had to convince my dad that I really wanted to play the piano, so I made up some songs and played them for the school talent show."
Summerville moved to Champaign for grad school.
"I started out at 800 West Church Street in the apartments over there when the rent was only $125 a month and I had to pay that in installments because that was a lot of money then."
He stayed because he loved it.
"People are friendly, They have a sense of community."
For decades, he's taught students about melodies and harmonies. But, his lessons are about more than just music.
"I said, 'Gentlemen and ladies,' even early. Get them accustomed to that."
He comes to the Canaan Academy twice a week, encouraging the grade school kids to aspire for something higher. Summerville does all this as a volunteer.
"We used to talk about how when you get there, go back and help somebody else."
He's honored to be nominated as a "Difference Maker" for the Star Awards because, even after the kids to back to class, a song of service still echoes in his heart.
Summerville's full-time jobs is at the UI as an outreach coordinator for African-American studies. He also teaches a class there.
There are other categories at the Star Awards. Four people each were nominated as Good Neighbors or for the Neighborhood Leadership award. One group will be selected as the Community Partner of the Year. There's an award for Rising Star as well.
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