By Ana Martinez-Ortiz
For 35 years, America has honored and celebrated Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s legacy and birthday. Of all the cities in this nation, Milwaukee and Atlanta have been the only ones to consistently celebrate this day.
Earlier this week, a birthday celebration was held at the Marcus Center for Performing Arts. During the celebration, various groups performed including the Milwaukee Flyers Tumbling Team and the Majestic Community Choir. Milwaukee officials such as Mayor Tom Barrett, Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele, Congresswoman Gwen Moore and MPS Superintendent Dr. Keith Posley also made remarks.
This year’s theme focused on keeping MLK’s legacy alive. In preparation for the event, MPS students were asked to create artwork, a written piece or speech. The first, second and third place winners in each grade and category were recognized at the celebration. Additionally, the first-place speech writers performed their speech.
Kayle Phillips a fourth grader at Golda Meir, said that King taught people how to fight, not with their fists, but with their words. His actions, she explained, are part of the reason she can attend Golda Meir. It’s through school, that Kayle met her best friend who happens to be white. “We’re allowed to be friends because of Dr. King,” she said.
Kayle’s legacy includes her grandma, who marched in Milwaukee until the Fair Housing Act was passed. She added that King taught that it is always the right time to do the right thing.
“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere,” Kayle said, quoting King.
Each speech reflected on King’s legacy in a unique way. Janiya Williams is an eighth-grader at Golda Meir. She delivered her speech in the form of a poem. In her poem, Janiya remarked on police brutality.
“It’s hard to be unarmed when they see our blackness as a weapon,” she said. “Maybe I’m black but that doesn’t mean I’m danger.”
Janiya added that she shouldn’t be afraid that something could happen to her just because she’s black. Everyone is equal, “all of God’s people,” she added.
At the end of her poem, Janiya proclaimed loudly to the applause of the crowd, “I’m gonna say it loud, I’m black and I’m proud.”
Like Janiya, ninth-grader Amilla Bell, commented on today’s current state of affairs. Amilla attends Rufus King IB High School. King often spoke of the promise land, where everyone is equal and there’s no reason to march for freedom, Amilla said. Unfortunately, it has not yet been reached.
A lot of the issues King dealt with, including homelessness, still exist today, she said. Plus, dropout rates are increasing, funding is decreasing and horrific acts of violence are committed every day to children like Sandra Parks, who should still be alive today. “We have to do better,” Amilla told the crowd.
Fernwood Montessori School sixth-grader, Zora Penager Davidson, said “not everything has changed.” But that doesn’t mean they can’t change.
Zora said she may get teased for being smart, but King taught her not to hate. Kindness can’t be legislated and not everyone will show respect, she said.
One of the most important things King did was make way for the leaders of today.
“Because of Dr. King, there is no limit to who I can be or who you can be,” Zora said.
Interspersed between the students’ speeches were remarks made by the aforementioned elected officials. During his speech, Abele said that King taught that, “social change happens whether or not we’re a part of it” and that “[our] conscious tells us what is right.” In this upcoming year, people and politicians need to be held accountable, he told the crowd.
Part of King’s legacy was his leadership, Barrett said. He was a civil rights and spiritual leader who had a pulpit not only in the church, but in the streets and schools as well. Across the nation, a tone is being set by its leaders and it’s not always a good tone, Barrett said. He added that even though strong leadership may not be seen in Washington D.C. at the moment, it needs to be seen in Milwaukee.
“Regardless of our background, we are all human beings and we need to respect each other,” Barrett said.
As Kayle put it, “Let his legacy live through all of us.”