The UW-Madison First Wave Hip Hop and Urban Arts Learning Community stole the show with a dynamic performance at the 28th annual Dane County and City of Madison Martin Luther King Jr. Holiday Observance Jan. 21.
The King Holiday Observance, which was held at the Overture Center's Capitol Theater, drew a packed crowd and featured rousing performances from the Martin Luther King Jr. Community Choir. The theme of this year’s holiday observance was "Moving Forward: Remember…. Celebrate…Act!"
Rev. Everett Mitchell of Christ the Solid Rock Baptist Church hosted the event and talked about one of Dr. King’s later speeches titled “Where Do We Go From Here?” delivered at the 11th annual SCLC Convention in Atlanta in 1967.
“The speech was radical in that Dr. King wanted to reshape the SCLC’s focus to include not only racial injustice as an agenda for social transformation but economic injustice, as well,” Mitchell said. “King began to realize that the problem of racism, the problem of economic exploitation, and the problem of war were all intricately tied together.”
Dr. King asserted that in order for us to answer the question: where do we go from here?, Mitchell added, we must honestly recognize where we are right now.
“Therefore, Madison and Dane County, I pose a simple question: Where are we right now?” asked Mitchell, who is the community relations director at UW-Madison. “Where are we as a community when young men and women are still sitting silently in classroom feeling hopeless because they cannot read? Where are we as a community when we have Latino brothers and sisters working in the shadows of society quietly living and possibly fearful of that knock on their door? Where are we as a community with people coming out of prison and ready to make a change in their lives finding themselves locked up by a community unwilling to give them a second chance? Where are we when homeless individuals are kicked from one place to the next as people battle cold weather?
"As we remember, reflect, and act, we do so with a conscious call of Dr. Martin Luther King reminding us all life is interrelated,” added Mitchell. “We are all caught in the inescapable network of mutuality tied together into a single garment of destiny. All of our souls are connected to one another."
The annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Humanitarian Awards were presented to individuals who have made significant contributions in the spirit of harmony and equality in Madison. Pedro Albiter presented seventeen-year-old Rayanna Thigpen with the MLK Youth Leader Award. Rayanna, a senior at Madison West High School, has overcome many challenges in life to find success and works as a membership service specialist at the Boys and Girls Club.
Dane County Supervisor Shelia Stubbs introduced Ed Lee as one of the MLK Humanitarian Award winners. Lee has worked for over two decades for social justice and systemic change in Dane County and has been active in the Urban League of Greater Madison for over 17 years.
“It’s humbling to receive an award with Dr. King’s name attached to it,” Lee said. “These are interesting paradoxical times that we live in. On one hand, we just inaugurated the nations’ first black president to a second term. Many states across the country fought back discriminatory marriage clause recently. Overall, I think there is a much more optimistic tone. However, at the same time the wealth gap between rich and poor continues to grow. The human rights between same-sex couples persists. The academic achievement gap between white students and students of color is staggering.
“I think what Dr. King would tell us today is exactly what he said in his 1967's ‘Where Do We Go from Here’ speech,’” he added. “Let us be dissatisfied until the tragic walls that separate the outer city of wealth and comfort from the inner city of poverty and despair shall be crushed by the battering rams of the forces of justice. Let us be dissatisfied until those who live on the outskirts of hope are brought into the metropolis of daily security. Let us be dissatisfied until slums are cast into the junk heaps of history, and every family will live in a decent, sanitary home. Let us be dissatisfied until the dark yesterdays of segregated schools will be transformed into bright tomorrows of quality integrated education. Let us be dissatisfied until from every city hall, justice will roll down like waters, and righteousness like a mighty stream.”
The other MLK Humanitarian Award went to Mercile Lee, who was born and raised in a time in our country’s history when it was legal to deny someone opportunity simply because of the color of their skin. Those early experiences in the segregated south have led her to a life focus rooted in ensuring success of all young people — regardless of race, ethnicity, or socio-economic status. The Chancellor’s Scholarship Program at UW-Madison was founded and directed by Lee until her retirement in 2012.
“It is indeed an honor to join past recipients of this award,” she said. “I accept this award with profound humility and deep gratitude. My parents exemplified servant leadership and instilled in each of their 12 children the moral responsibility to help those in need. We were challenged to live up to our potential and to give back regardless of how little or how much we had.”