Martin Luther King, Jr. Day

Radhika Garland

The 16th annual Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. celebration brought together many active community members of the Appleton area and greater Wisconsin.
It was chiefly sponsored by Toward Community: Unity in Diversity, a nonprofit organization that advocates justice “for people of all cultures and ethnic backgrounds.”
After a brief prelude featuring organist Frank Rippl, Yvette Dunlap welcomed the audience and introduced Congressman Steve Kagen. Kagen stressed Dr. King’s message of nonviolence, and the importance of putting people before property.
“People are killing each other for better sneakers. Dr. King struggled for better things.”
Following the singing of “Lift Every Voice and Sing” by James Johnson, Pastor Manns led the invocation. Then, the Jane LaChapelle McCarty Unity in Diversity Award was given to Bob Pederson, a man widely known for his active role in improving the lives of Siberian children, youth work in the U.S., and support for the Rotary multicultural center through donations and office space, among other good works.
Pederson recounted his personal experiences at the march on Washington, where he saw the Reverend Dr. King nail a proclamation on the door of city hall, and then in different, extremely violent circumstances when he was wounded by a thrown brick.
He finished by briefly outlining how the struggle for social justice has not yet ended, and invoked a well-known statement by Dr. King.
“And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the Promised Land!”
Awards were presented to essay contest winners Megha Uberoi of Appleton Classical School, Shanti Verma Lenz of Janet Berry Elementary School in Appleton, Gretchen Miron of J.R. Gerritts Middle School in Kimberly, and Hannah Rasmussen from Menasha High School.
Each read aloud her essay, voicing observations, hopes, concerns and questions relating to the question “For the Common Good – Is King’s Dream Still Relevant Today?”
Keynote speaker Justice Louis Butler was introduced by LUCC President Adrell Bullock. Justice Butler was recently appointed to the Wisconsin Supreme Court in 2004, making him the first African-American to hold the state’s highest court position.
He also received his bachelor’s degree from Lawrence and a law degree from University of Wisconsin-Madison.
Justice Butler spoke passionately and eloquently of the deplorable rate of poverty in Wisconsin. The hourly wage for black women and men is drastically less than their white counterparts, and 10 percent less than the national average of poverty.
In addition, in Milwaukee, the poverty rate among black women is seven times greater than their white counterparts.
He remembered how Rosa Parks, Thurgood Marshall, and even the leveling conditions of Nixon had helped him throughout his life. Justice Butler astutely reminded the audience, “We didn’t get here alone, without stepping on the backs of other people.”
Butler also recounted a recent case of racism in Madison witnessed by his daughter and her friend. In a restaurant, a black man could not apply for a position because he did not have a home phone number, and was even admonished for being “unprofessional.”
Although he said he would work any and all hours needed and said he planned to buy a telephone as soon as he could afford it, his application was rudely snatched from him. He was told to leave immediately.
Justice Butler’s daughter, a first-year law student, immediately related to the management what she had just witnessed and informed them of the legal action the man who had been discriminated against should press.
Such a situation will happen again, Justice Butler relayed, and then there will be new opportunities to fight it.
Although the greater part of the audience did not include Lawrence University students, the university administration was well represented by Erik Farley, Assistant Dean of the Office of Multicultural Affairs. In an interview with The Lawrentian, Farley spoke positively about the future relationship between Lawrence and the Appleton community.
“The relationship the university has with the community lets you know where the university is headed,” said Farley.
It was an opportunity for the Appleton community and Lawrence University to work together.
Farley concludes that the city and the university will hopefully collaborate more often on such important and relevant issues as Dr. King’s legacy.