Lawrence hosts Martin Luther King Jr. Day celebration

On Monday, Jan. 15, the 33rd annual Fox Valley Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Community Celebration was held at 6 p.m. in the Lawrence Memorial Chapel. The celebration featured members of the Appleton and Lawrence community who have exemplified King’s leadership and goals of unity. Although this event was hosted by Lawrence, all members of the Appleton community were invited to commemorate King’s life and his work in the Civil Rights Movement. The main theme of the event was “We Have a Dream,” which was displayed on the fliers handed out at the event and stated by many speakers.  

NOIR vocalist junior Seckou Somare performs at the 33rd annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Community Celebration. Photo provided by Lawrence University.

The event opened with Lawrence R&B group, NOIR, who performed a cover of “Just the Two of Us,” originally sung by Grover Washington Jr. The cover was received well by the audience, as participants of the MLK Celebration were seen clapping their hands and dancing to the beat of the music. NOIR’s vocalist, junior Seckou Soumare, and their pianist, sophomore Luis Plaza, stated that, while they felt nervous on such an important night, they enjoyed performing “Just the Two of Us.”  

“I don’t think I’ve ever seen this many people in the Chapel on the ground level and in the balcony,” Soumare stated. “I thought it was cool to see so many people gather for such an important day of remembrance, especially in a small town like Appleton.” 

Following the performance, President Laurie A. Carter welcomed members of the community and thanked people for joining in celebration of King’s birthday almost 60 years after his passing. In honoring King’s legacy, Appleton community members Carla Manns and Allayah Manns asked the audience to stand in unity and sing together “Lift Every Voice and Sing.” Next, two high school students, Malik Taylor and Kyair Stulgate, joined together in a poetry reading. The next phase of the celebration featured Vice President for Inclusion, Diversity, Equity, Antiracism, and Support Services Kenny Yarbrough presenting the Jane LaChapelle McCarty MLK Community Leader Award to Casa Hispana President Ernesto Gonzalez Jr. He also presented the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Educator Award to Kaleidoscope Academy Principal Alexandra Molitor.  

The event featured Appleton Public Library’s Community Partnerships Supervisor, Dr. Adriana  McCleer, who described her approach to librarianship as asset-based, collaborative and community-centered. The celebration also featured keynote speaker Cainan Davenport, who won the MLK Community Leader Award in 2023 for his dedication in bringing like-minded individuals together to epitomize a strong and empowered community. Throughout his speech, Davenport encouraged members of his community to uphold Dr. King’s dream of continuing to fight for racial equality.  

The night closed with a final performance from NOIR. The band spoke about how students and faculty at Lawrence can apply King’s ideology to campus.  

“MLK Day is about living in harmony and unity,” Soumare said. “We are on our way towards that, but as a student body we are divided; whether it is intentional or not, we need to work together in these spaces and appreciate everyone for who they are. Dr. King was about spreading the love and as a student body, we need to join in unity to honor that.”  

“As far as applying MLK Day to Lawrence, I think anyone that comes here and listens and integrates what is being talked about into their lives will inevitably lift the people around you,” Plaza said.