'His words resonate:' Milwaukee's MLK Birthday Celebration among longest-running in US

MILWAUKEE -- Students throughout the Greater Milwaukee area shared speeches, artwork, and dancing Sunday, Jan. 19, ahead of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day Monday. The 36th annual MLK Birthday Celebration took place at the Marcus Performing Arts Center.

Each year, students from kindergarten through 12th grade are asked to interpret Dr. King's work, and for the first time, participants were not only from Milwaukee Public Schools, but also, the Wauwatosa and West Bend school districts.

Samawia Akhter

"Be the best of whatever you are," said Samawia Akhter from Salam High School, first-place speech contest winner. "His words resonate with me now."

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'

Referencing Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s, "What is your life's blueprint" speech from 1967, Akhter channeled the 2020 theme, "Your life has significance" in a speech of her own.

"Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. once said to students attending Barratt Junior High School, 'Be a bush if you can't be a tree," said Akhter. "'If you can't be a highway, just be a trail. If you can't be a sun, be a star.'"

The first-place winner joined dozens of students who saluted Dr. King's legacy through spoken word, writing, and dance.

"The measure of my significance should not be affected by others' negative opinions or views of me," said Akhter. "It is measured by accepting who I am, and proud of that."

Anthony Smith, the Marcus Center's director of community engagement and inclusion said the event is among the longest-running programs of its kind in the country.

"Milwaukee and Atlanta are the only two cities that have been consistently performing this event since 1984," said Smith.

For 36 years, the Civil Rights leader has not only been honored in Milwaukee, but young people have been given an outlet to express their experiences.

"Sometimes hope is the last thing that folks hold on to, but there's hope," said Smith. "But we want each one of these individuals not only the scholars, but their families, their life has significance."

Organizers said they hope to expand the number of school districts participating in 2021.