The Meaning of Martin Luther King

Kijai Corbett

The Lawrence Memorial Chapel was nearly full Monday evening as people continued to file in amidst dimming lights and the dying strains of the piano. It was a welcome – if unfamiliar – sight to see so much racial diversity at Lawrence, or anywhere in Appleton. The audience was mostly families from the area, but many Lawrence students, staff and faculty were also present.
The 13th annual Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration was sponsored by Toward Community: Unity in Diversity, a local organization that aims to promote
unity, diversity, understanding and justice in the Fox Valley. Intended to honor the life and contributions of King, the theme of the program was, “Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community?”
To begin, Shannon Kenevan was presented with Toward Community’s Jane LaChapelle McCarty Award. The award, named for a local activist and Toward Community founding member,
honored Kenevan for his work co-founding Harmony Cafe. The cafe is meant to be a safe place in the Valley to celebrate diversity. Kenevan has also been instrumental in other initiatives like the Fox Cities Multicultural Center, the Justice Coalition and the GLBT partnership.
Next honored were the winners of the organization’s annual Martin Luther King essay contest. Dr. Bola Delano-Oriaran called the five winners, out of over 300 submissions
from grades two to 12, “the next generation of our leaders.” The students Beth Ann Maycelle Lotton, Mary Margaret Sturm, Katherine Griffin, Kevin Englebert and Lauren Rushford addressed the question, “Where do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community?” All spoke of why King’s ideals are still relevant today and the continued need for each of us to speak out against injustice.
The night’s keynote speaker was Eugene Kane, a columnist for the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel who often writes, as he joked, from the viewpoint of “the angry black guy.” Kane stressed the need to go beyond simply knowing what King did to understanding who he was. After growing up in what some Southerners would call “high cotton,” or an upper middle class background, the essence of King, according to Kane, was his choice to give up that lifestyle to follow a higher purpose. By joining the civil rights movement, King sacrificed
the life he had planned for himself
to help those less fortunate. The meaning of Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Kane continued, is one of sacrifice. It’s not enough to sit back comfortably while problems exist which we are capable of solving.
King’s words, “Our lives begin and end the day we become silent,” sum up the program. In the end, the celebration
went beyond honoring King with words to urging the community to honor him in deed; it was a call to action.
The night ended with a gorgeous performance of “We Shall Overcome” and “We Shall Not Give Up the Fight,” sung by Kenneth L. Daniel, Sr., a 1991 Lawrence graduate. The Rev. Roger Bertschausen closed with the benediction:
“May we make Appleton a place of peace and community and not of chaos.

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