By Mrinal Gokhale
Audience members filled almost the entire Marcus Center for Performing Arts Uihlein Hall on Sun. Jan 17 as local children and high school students delivered speeches, dances and poetry readings celebrating Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday.
The Indian Hill Dancers group performed the opening act, drawing audience members in with colorful dresses and catchy drum beats.
Things soon went from lighthearted to serious as Mayor Tom Barrett delivered an opening statement, expressing his passion for this annual celebration at the Marcus Center.
“These students on stage you’ll see today are Milwaukee’s future, showing their talents in every way possible,” he began.
This celebration was the 32nd annual Dr. Martin Luther King., Jr. birthday celebration held by the Marcus Center from 1:30 p.m.-3:30 p.m. Thousands of Wisconsin K-12 students submit speeches, writing and art revolving around each year’s theme.
This year’s theme at this free event was “We Must Act Now.”
“5,000 students submitted work this year from all over Wisconsin,” said Paul Matthews CEO of the Marcus Center.
There were first, second and third place winners from kindergarten through 12th grade under the categories of writing, essays and art.
“There is an urgency in this year’s celebration and it’s that we face the urgency of acting now,” Barrett said.
“We have challenges and obligations that our community must face together such as improving police community relations so residents and policemen can work together.
We must also improve public safety,” he said, citing Milwaukee’s high homicide rate.
Xavier Smith, an outspoken African American 4th grader at Oriole Lane Elementary School, delivered his first prize winning speech shortly after Barret’s speech.
“Dr. King once said, ‘I’m concerned about a better world, about justice and I’m concerned about the truth.’”
“Well, the truth is that we cannot wait for our elected officials to fix these problems. We must first change the way we think,” he exclaimed.
Smith received great applause from audience members throughout and at the end of his inspirational piece.
The first place speech contest winners of grades 5 through 10 also delivered their speeches. Other writing, art and speech winners also appeared and had their names announced on stage.
Most speeches revolved around gun violence and police brutality happening in Milwaukee and around the world, encouraging residents to “act now.” The Ballet Folklorico de Hayes, Milwaukee Tumblers, Skai Academy of Performing Arts and hip hop cellist Malik Johnson performed acts in between speeches.
The Martin Luther King, Jr. birthday celebration is hosted by a committee and sponsored by organizations such as Forest County Potawatomi Foundation, who presented it this year.
Other sponsors include Metro PCS, Brewers Community Foundation, Milwaukee Public Schools, Islamic Society of Milwaukee and many more.
Visit https://www.facebook.com/mlkcelebrationmke or the Marcus Center for Performing Arts official website to learn more.