“Fair Play, Good Will and Justice”: MKE honors Dr. King
This Monday is Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, celebrating the inspiring life of a man committed to racial equality. Milwaukee will honor his achievements on Sunday Jan. 20 with two uplifting performance arts events from the Marcus Center and Bel Canto Chorus.
The Marcus Center will host its 29th Annual Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Birthday Celebration, featuring the talents of diverse performing arts groups and guest speaker George Koonce, a former Green Bay Packer who has also served as director of development at Marquette and director of athletics at UWM. The event also serves as an award ceremony for the student winners of an annual art, speech and writing contest, this year under the theme “Fair Play, Good Will and Justice.”
Bridgett Gonzalez, director of diversity and audience development at the Marcus Center, estimates that this year’s celebration will bring about 1800 guests.
“The number seems to keep increasing, which is very exciting,” says Gonzalez. “We hope for people to be touched and encouraged by the diverse groups coming together as one. And the speech winners are always inspiring, showing the wisdom of young Milwaukee students.”
The student contest extends K-12, with 1st, 2nd, and 3rd place winners in high school, middle school, grades 3-5 and grades K-2. Students were asked to create a work of art, a speech, or a piece of writing concerning “Fair Play, Good Will and Justice.” The theme changes every year, using an excerpt from a speech by the late Dr. King.
Donelle Johnson, coordinator of the contest and member of the King Celebration Planning Committee, recognizes the need to celebrate this holiday and foster writing skills within public schools.
“Educators are being encouraged to see it vital that students today learn about Dr. King, what he worked so hard and died for, and his non-violent tactics to achieving his goals,” says Johnson.
William Brown, Jr., who took the first-place position in writing for high school students, said he chose to address the attack on voter’s rights rampant in this year’s presidential election.
“…it seems we want to turn back the hands of time pre-1965 where voter suppression tactics were used so overtly that laws had to be enacted just to even the voter playing field between whites and minorities,” writes Brown.
Brown is an active member of UWM’s Upward Bound program for college prep, and hopes to attend North Carolina University for civil engineering.
In addition to presentations of student winners, diverse arts groups will perform throughout the celebration. First to perform will be the Bear Clan Singers and Dancers from Forest County Potowatomi, who have been a major supporter for the event for many years.
New to the stage this year is Aarahbi Indian School of Dance. Performances will also include Hmong American Peace Academy Dancers, Ballet Folklorico Nacional, Milwaukee High School of the Arts Jazz Group, Signature Dance Company and MYSO Calypso.
“A lot of work goes into this event,” says Gonzalez. “It’s a little disappointing that there aren’t more celebrations like this across the states [Milwaukee and Atlanta are the only US cities to host a yearly event since 1984]. But we’re proud to have sponsorship and a strong committee. It’s hard work, but it’s possible.”
Bel Canto Chorus and the Milwaukee Chamber Orchestra have put a lot of work into their own celebration, a commemorative concert combining the inspirational words of Dr. King with upbeat, moving music.
“This second annual tribute concert to the memory of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., at once celebrates the man and his achievements, while providing an artistic forum for building understanding and connection between Milwaukee’s diverse communities,” said Richard Hynson, music director of both the MCO and Bel Canto Chorus. “By commemorating this great man we acknowledge a history that is still painful, while embracing his ideals for peaceful reconciliation, not only here in America, but throughout the world.”
Admission to both events Sunday, Jan. 20 is free. The Marcus Center’s 29th Annual Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Birthday Celebration begins at 1 p.m. with the Paulette Y. Copeland Reception at 3:30 p.m. The Marcus Center will open their parking structure for free parking: first come, first served.
Bel Canto Chorus and the MCO will host their 2nd annual Dr. King tribute concert at 5 p.m. at Holy Redeemer Institutional Church of God in Christ.