MLK celebration concludes with ceremony in Memorial Chapel

Tammy Tran

Members of the Fox Valley community gathered in Memorial Chapel Jan. 17 for the 20th annual Martin Luther King Jr. celebration. The theme of this year’s celebration was “Building a Vocal Community: The Enduring Spirit of Dr. King.”
The celebration began with a prelude performed by Lawrence’s Lecturer of Music and University Organist Kathrine Handford, followed by a welcome from President Jill Beck.
“Tonight as you look around Memorial Chapel,” stated Beck, “you will find yourself among people from throughout the Fox Cities who have come together as one community to raise their voices to carry on the ideals of Dr. King. By choosing to be here and to not be silent, the fight for equality and justice continues to build, continues to gain the momentum it needs to succeed at last. And that is exactly what Dr. King envisioned.”
Yvette Dunlap, assistant superintendent of the Appleton School District, was then welcomed to the stage to speak about Toward Community: Unity in Diversity, a local nonprofit organization that seeks to connect diverse groups and individuals in the Fox Valley through education and advocacy.
Dunlap reminded the audience of the struggles that African Americans faced before and during the Civil Rights Movement. She praised Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. for his non-violent approach to achieving racial equality under the law.
Dunlap also welcomed and recognized the attendance of local dignitaries, including State Representative Penny Benard Schaber; Major Tim Hannah; Superintendent of Schools for the Appleton School District Lee Allinger; Chief of the Appleton Police Department Dave Walsh; Marlene Mielke from Senator Kohl’s office; and Sharron Nagler, the chair of the county board.
The ceremony proceeded with the announcement of this year’s Jane LaChapelle McCarty Unity in Diversity Award winner. The Jane LaChapelle McCarty Unity in Diversity Award recognizes an individual that has made great strides in bringing different people of the Appleton community together. Reverend Roger Bertschausen presented the award to Terry Dawson, former director of the Appleton Public Library.
“When you walk into the library,” said Bertschausen, “you see all of Appleton. [.] Diversity so wonderfully evident is no accident. It is the result of great care and intentionality. No one should be given more credit than Terry, the library’s director since 1996. Terry has magnificently displayed the two skills necessary to make this happen: the vision to make a library that reflects the community and the talent to make this passion come to life.”
In his acceptance speech, Dawson echoed Dr. King’s commitments to diversity and equity. “Public libraries are about creating equity of access to information,” shared Dawson, “about creating opportunities for self determination, about the core values of community education, intellectual freedom and about making a diversity of thoughts and ideas available. And this makes encouraging diversity a natural activity for public libraries.”
The four winners of the annual Martin Luther King essay contest were then welcomed to the stage. Reflecting on the progress that Americans have made in extinguishing racial inequality, fourth grade winner Annika Anderson wrote, “Although things have gotten better for black people in America, there are still some people who do not recognize these rights. We all have to work together to make Dr. King’s dream come true.”
Bertschausen expressed enthusiasm about the annual MLK Jr. celebration: “It’s so great to have this be part of our community every year as a reminder of what we need to be doing and as an energizer and challenger.”
To close the evening, the crowd listened to and sang along with the celebration’s keynote speaker, Dr. Ysaye Barnwell. Barnwell is an acclaimed musician, composer, arranger, singer, teacher, choral clinician, researcher, author and actress. Some of her accomplishments include narrating for the NPR documentary “W.C. Handy’s Blues” and appearing in the 1998 Jonathan Demme film “Beloved.”
In her keynote address, Barnwell led the audience in singing songs from the Civil Rights movement.
“Singing was such a glue in the civil rights movement,” stated Barnwell. “Coming out of African culture, black people have sung and we still sing. It is the best way to document what is going on. It is the best way to bring your voice into communion with other voices and to understand that the blending of those voices has the potential for creating something much larger than any one voice can create by itself. Dr. King understood that.”
Barnwell added, “I think it’s important for communities, not just here, but communities all over the country to find ways to commemorate the worth, spirit, brilliance and the struggle that King engaged.”
She concluded, “It’s because of his work and his leadership that we are where we are today. It’s because of the work and the foundation that he helped to lay down and future that he helped to shape that we are experiencing some of these benefits today.