Hundreds of people gathered Jan. 21 to celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. Day at the 33rd annual State of Wisconsin Tribute and Ceremony honoring Martin Luther King Jr. at the state Capitol building.
“Welcome to Wisconsin’s 33rd annual tribute and ceremony honoring a man who lived and died and fought for social justice for those most marginalized in our nation and beyond,” said host Jonathan Overby to the overflowing crowd.
Madison Mayor Paul Soglin, University of Wisconsin President Kevin Reilly, and Gov. Scott Walker were among those who attended the state's 33rd annual ceremony honoring King, which is the nation’s oldest state celebration.
Journalist and author John W. Fountain gave the keynote address. A native son of Chicago, Fountain is an award-winning journalist, professor, and author of the memoir, “True Vine: A Young Black Man’s Journey of Faith Hope and Clarity.” His most recent book is “Dear Dad: Reflections on Fatherhood” and was released in 2011.
“Even as we remember Dr. King as we recall marches, sit-ins, and boycotts that brought us to this day, I say to those of you who endeavor to let us complete the mission, ‘Let us march,’” said Fountain, a professor of journalism at Roosevelt University in Chicago and a weekly columnist for the Chicago Sun-Times. “But if we march, let us march towards brotherly love, towards teaching our children to respect themselves as well as others, to finding a fair and humane solution to undocumented immigrants who by their hard work ethic and daily contributions become part of the American fabric.
“If we march, let us not leave behind the sick and the elderly who too often have to choose between buying their medication or buying food,” he added. “If we march, let us march to the corners of our neighborhoods where some of our brothers linger as drug dealers and gang bangers. Let us stand and pray and show them a better way.”
The tribute also featured performances from Wisconsin Dells Singers, Ho-Chunk Native American drum and dance ensemble, Malcolm Williams and Great Faith singers, Milwaukee’s Latino Arts Strings program and Madison Bagpipers. Freddie Carter of Wright Middle School gave a rousing rendition of “I Have a Dream.”
Those honored at the event included Howard Fuller, the former superintendent of Milwaukee Public Schools, and Father James Groppi, an activist Catholic priest known for his devotion to racial justice and housing fairness.
Accepting the MLK 2013 Heritage Award on behalf of her late husband, Dr. Margaret Rozga talked a bit about what Groppi and MLK believed in.
“As a person who got her start in the civil rights movement by volunteering to work on the Southern Christian Leadership voter registration in Alabama, I know that those who propose any curtailment of voting rights are not in the tradition of Martin Luther King and [Father] James Groppi,” she said. “As a person who remembers that Martin Luther King was killed while he was working to organize sanitation workers, I know that anyone who works to curtail union rights is not in the tradition of Martin Luther King.
“Father James Groppi believed in addressing the root causes of poverty and those causes are backward social policy,” she added. “He believed in the tradition summarized by St. Thomas Aquinas that the superabundance of the rich belongs by natural right to the poor. He agreed with Frederick Douglas that power concedes nothing without a demand — it never did and it never will. I want to thank all of those who are standing up in the tradition of Martin Luther King and Fr. James Groppi.”