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Milwaukee keeps Martin Luther King Jr.'s legacy alive with an annual birthday celebration

For three decades, Milwaukee has celebrated Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday with a celebratory event hosted at the Marcus Performing Arts Center. The free program is packed with performances from numerous cultural arts organizations but at the core of the event focuses on contest winners.

Every year, the youth within our community interpret Martin Luther King’s words through a speech, writing and art contest. Anthony Smith, the Marcus Performing Arts Center's director of community engagement and inclusion, says the theme of this year’s celebration is "Your Life Has Significance."

"With the way that the world is going right now and all of the different challenges children experience we want to give hope and keep hope alive without sounding too cliche,” said Smith. “We want our families, we want  our children to realize that they mean something to someone and that their life actually has significance.”

Smith says the theme was inspired by the passing of Sandra Parks, a victim of gun violence.

“She was one of our past winners,” said Smith. “One of the quotes she said is, ‘Little children are victims of senseless gun violence and we must not allow the lies of violence, racism and prejudice to be our truth.'” 

The contest submissions ranged from grades K-12, and often the work submitted came from a personal and deep place. Smith says the upcoming event gives kids a platform to speak up on topics that are difficult and an opportunity to not be ignored.

"If we want to learn we need to learn to listen,” said Smith. “If you just take a few minutes to listen to a child on what they are thinking and how they process those thoughts, you learn a lot.” 

Milwaukee honors this day to keep Martin Luther King’s legacy and mission alive but also it’s a celebration that gives kids a space to take his words and lessons and add on to it. To express themselves and tackle prevalent issues by using their art within a productive accepting space.

The 36 Annual Dr. King Birthday celebrationwill be at the Marcus Performing Arts Center at Uihlein Hall, 929 N. Water St. on Jan. 19. The celebration starts at 1 p.m. and is free and open to the public.

Audio Storyteller / 88Nine On-Air Talent | Radio Milwaukee