In a year that marks the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation, and the 50th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream Speech,” Milwaukee youth participated in a commemorative civil rights march and displayed their talents using spoken word, music, skits, dance, rap and other forms of artistic expression.
Several hundred youths and adults participated in the march and then gathered at the Youth Voice Stage in Clinton Rose Park, at King Drive and Burleigh Street. The event coincided with Milwaukee’s Juneteenth Day celebration. Juneteenth, celebrated on June 19, commemorates the announcement of slavery’s end in the United States.
More than 35 youths, some on the spur of the moment, got up on the stage to perform, according to Norma Balentine, director of youth programs at Safe & Sound, which sponsored the event along with the Medical College of Wisconsin’s Violence Prevention Initiative.
One by one, the youths took the stage and stated their personal hopes and dreams for the community.
“Youth enjoyed the celebration and showed that they could be peaceful and positive,” said Balentine. She estimated that more than 100 youths participated in the march, which started at 19th Street and W. Atkinson Avenue.
Balentine noted that youth played a pivotal role in the civil rights movement. Adults who participated as children remember with pride the important role young people played in the movement, she added.
Safe & Sound supports 19 afterschool programs, along with other organizations and agencies. The Violence Prevention Initiative works to reduce youth violence in Milwaukee neighborhoods. Its partners include Boys and Girls Clubs of Greater Milwaukee, MPS’s Safe Streets and Healthy Students Initiative and UNCOM.
Master of ceremonies Timothy Wood of Running Rebels said he was inspired by the young performers. Running Rebels is a Lindsay Heights-based community organization that offers educational and recreational youth programs as alternatives to gangs and substance abuse. Wood said he devoted himself to working with young people after a prison stay.
The march and program demonstrate that “all the youth aren’t necessarily running around shooting up the neighborhoods and wilding out,” Wood said.