By Mrinal Gokhale
Thousands gathered at the Marcus Center of Performing Arts on Sunday, Jan. 14 to celebrate the life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. From 1 pm to 3 pm, local elected and community leaders gave speeches on Dr. King’s legacy, and Milwaukee Public School students delivered speeches and displayed artwork inspired by Dr. King.
Other than Atlanta, Milwaukee is the only other city that has celebrated Dr. King’s birthday since 1984. Each year, Milwaukee Public Schools students in grades K-12 participate in an art, essay and writing contest that honors Dr. King’s legacy. This year’s theme was “take a stand for truth and justice.”
MPS Superintendent Dr. Darienne Driver was one of the community leaders who spoke this day.
“We have had 5,000 students participate in the preliminary contest, and 56 won,” she said. “Our young people are finding ways to get active in our community.”
Amir Johnikin, grade 3, was the first place speech winner for the 3-4th grade category. He attends Elm Creative Arts Elementary School. Without a paper in his hand, he was one of the first to share his entire essay on stage. He stated that the same streets that Dr. King marched were the same streets where his father’s life was taken. He also mentioned African Americans like Sandra Bland, who died at the hands of police officers.
“King had a dream that people of all races would co-exist in peace,” he said. “I challenge you to stand up for what you believe in, I challenge you to stand up for justice, and I challenge you to stand up for truth.”
Tenth grader Ameen Atta feels especially passionate about the theme when it comes to Islam. Atta won first place in the 9-10th grade speeches category.
“As a Muslim, I stand against violent, senseless acts against Islam,” he said.
He also said that it is “disgusting” to hear “hateful remarks and proposals by leaders of our community.”
“If it’s African Americans, more police. If it’s Hispanics, build a wall. If it’s a Muslim, travel ban,” he said. “But if it’s none of the above, even if the person is the deadliest mass shooter in the history of our country, the only proposal is to send thoughts and prayers to the victim.”
Mayor Tom Barrett was one of the first to speak when the event began. He believes that although Dr. King has helped bring social and racial justice to our country today, our current president is not doing so.
“Rather than having an individual who is appealing to our better angels, we have someone who is not appealing to our better angels but to our lesser angels,” he said.
In addition to contest winners, Milwaukee Tumblers, O.N.F.Y.A.H, United Indians of Milwaukee and Latino Arts Strings performed during the multi-cultural salute portion. After the event ended, the art winners were honored in a reception at the Bradley Pavilion.