About 1,500 people attended the 28th annual celebration of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday on Sunday, Jan. 15, at the Marcus Center for the Performing Arts. Speeches, performances and art projects highlighted the theme of this year’s event, “Maintain Faith in the Future.” Milwaukee is one of two cities to annually celebrate Dr. King’s birthday since 1984. The other is Atlanta.
The theme was drawn from a speech given by Dr. King in 1961, “A Testament of Hope: The Essential Writings and Speeches of Martin Luther King, Jr.”
The student art, speech and writing contests required participants to interpret the day’s theme through Dr. King’s works.
“Maintaining faith in the future is the act of having to trust that there is a better day in the future,” said speech contest winner Donavon Nathaniel, 15, a student at Rufus King High School. Nathaniel was one of six first-place contest winners to speak. An awards presentation honored all speech, writing and art contest winners on stage.
“Today I am following Dr. King’s vision by not fighting hate with hate, but fighting hate with love,” said Kira Adkins, first place speech contest winner in the 3rd-4th grade category and a student at Congress Elementary School.
The writing contest alone drew 1,850 entries, said Bridgett Gonzalez, director of diversity and audience development at the Marcus Center. Winning art projects were displayed at a reception in the Bradley Pavilion.
“By having our youth translate Dr. King’s teachings from his time and living it out today, we see Dr. King’s message of love in our community,” Gonzalez said.
Mayor Tom Barrett exhorted the audience to continue Dr. King’s dream. “We are called upon to accept his challenge,” he said.
Among the nine cultural performances were Milwaukee Chinese Youth Orchestra, Hmong American Peace Academy Dancers and Ballet Folklorico Nacional Azteca. CAPITA Productions (City At Peace in The Arts) closed the day’s celebration with “We are the Drum: A Rhythm in Wisconsin,” a theatrical rendition of Milwaukee’s triumph over discrimination and hate.
The crowd also honored four individuals, including Vel Phillips, who marched with the Milwaukee NAACP across the 16th Street Bridge to demand equal housing rights. Phillips first introduced the fair housing ordinance in 1962 and it passed in 1968—two weeks after the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., according to the Vel Phillips Foundation.
For some, it’s a day of service. For others, it’s a day of reflection. For all of us, it’s a day of unity. Follow the link below to see more stories of organizations and community members in Milwaukee honoring and celebrating the enduring message of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
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