By Karen Stokes
Even though Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s 86th birthday was on Jan. 15, his birthday is observed as a national holiday on the third Monday in January. Milwaukee has celebrated the King Holiday since 1984. The holiday is widely known as a day of service. The city offered a variety of events for the community to volunteer and enjoy.
The day started with the 18th annual YMCA of Metropolitan Milwaukee breakfast. Approximately 500 guests including community leaders and politicians Mayor Tom Barrett and Governor Scott Walker were in attendance at the Italian Community Center in downtown Milwaukee. The event included artwork, speakers and spoken word poetry that highlighted the issues of the city and solutions to those issues.
Cheryl Isabell, Account Representative at Saga Communications, was impressed with the winners of the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Youth Spoken Word Contest who recited their poetry at the breakfast.
“There was a dynamic display of wisdom from the young MLK Spoken Word Contest winners,” Isabell said. “The poetry this year was very powerful.”
Another event honoring Dr. King involved the Milwaukee Fire Department partnering with the American Red Cross and volunteers servicing the community by traveling door to door to Milwaukee families in need, installing smoke alarms to help keep them safe.
In the last year, eight fatal fires occurred in Milwaukee and seven of those houses did not have a working smoke detector.
The Martin Luther King Justice Coalition sponsored a Justice Program and March at St. Francis of Assisi Church, 1927 N. 4th St. Recognition was given to mothers of victims of police violence.
Among the speakers were Maria Hamilton, mother of Dontre Hamilton and founder of Mothers for Justice.
Following the program was a march to the Dr. King statue on MLK Drive.
Children, teens and adults came out to the King Library, 310 W Locust St, to enjoy a day full of family fun activities.
All Milwaukee Public Libraries are closed on the King Holiday except for the King Library.
Paula Kiely, Milwaukee Public Library explained that six years ago they decided to keep the King branch open on the holiday.
“We felt the need to keep this one open because it was named for Dr. King,” said Kiely.
“I take no credit for today’s activities. It was the wonderful staff from the King library that planned these activities.
This is a great day to come together and enjoy each others’ company.”
Throughout the day, families listened to spoken word poetry and live music, and watched performances from the African American Children’s Theatre and the Imani Dancers.
Adults received free blood pressure screenings provided by nurses from the Columbia College of Nursing.
Visual artist, Fatima Laster, and members of the Teen Advisory Board invited the community to participate in creating a community mural for the King Library.
Mayor Tom Barrett got involved and joined the families in painting the mural.
“The Milwaukee Public Library invited me to come up with a concept that embodied Martin Luther King, Jr’s legacy,” Laster said.
“I came with the concept because of all the unrest and the violence against children in this city and I wanted a message to say the violence is not okay, let’s get together as a community.”
Lynette McCray, 29, is from Illinois, but journeyed to Milwaukee to support her friend, Fatima Laster, and to honor Dr. King.
“I wanted to be here because of the significance of the day; to honor Dr. King and the things he represented and this mural represents the message of peace and gives the message of hope to young people in the community,” McCray said.
The mural will be displayed in the King Library’s children’s section.
All photos below are by Robert Bell.