The 40th annual State of Wisconsin Tribute and Ceremony honoring Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was held at the state Capitol rotunda on Monday, Jan. 20. The popular annual event, titled “Stand for Justice,” is the oldest official state ceremony in the nation dedicated to Martin Luther King and is produced and directed by Wisconsin Public Radio’s Dr. Jonathan Overby.
“I’m pleased to join you all as we gather once again to contemplate and celebrate the pursuit of equality for all,” said Gov. Tony Evers to open the event. “Today’s theme, ‘Stand for Justice,’ brings together thousands of people from across our state and midwest, many who desire to bridge the social and cultural bonds that divide us.
“Wisconsin’s annual celebration of Dr. King’s life and legacy in words and music aspires to strengthen that bridge,” he added.
Evers introduced Dr. Jonathan Overby, who once again produced, directed, and hosted the oldest official MLK commemoration in the nation. Overby offered up his own opening remarks quoting Dr. Martin Luther King from a speech he made in Alabama in 1963.
“Everywhere we are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality tied to a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly; affects all indirectly.”
“So, today, we ask for peace. We ask for love,” Overby said. “And we ask for the celebration of those who are different. We remember that King wanted us to celebrate each other.”
The event featured performances by Sisters In Song Community Choir, formerly known as the MLK Women’s Mass Choir, and SistaStrings, a Milwaukee-based sister duo that combines classical backgrounds with R&B with a touch of gospel influence. Museum and archival items were on display including a new exhibit on Women’s’ Suffrage titled “We Stand on their Shoulders: A History of Wisconsin Women & Voting.”
The State of Wisconsin Tribute and Ceremony honoring Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was a chance to present Corinda Rainey-Moore with the MLK Heritage Award. Rainey-Moore is a mental health professional and advocate with over 25 years of experience who has led several support programs or adults with severe and persistent mental illness in Dane County.
“I just want to say that I am so honored to receive this award today on behalf of my husband and my kids who allow me to be all that I need to be in the community,” Rainey-Moore said. “I want to say ‘thank you’ because I couldn’t do it without you all.
“Just like Dr. King, service is who I am and its the price we pay for being here on earth,” she added. “We also know that for our kids, if the can’t see it, they won’t believe it. So we have to be there for our youth so that they can know that they can be all that they can be.”
Rev. Willie Brisco told the crowd that he was truly humbled and truly grateful for being selected to receive the other MLK Heritage Award. For more than 36 years, Brisco has dedicated his life to fighting racism in Milwaukee. Through WISDOM and EXPO (Ex-Incarcerated People Organizing), Brisco works with Gov. Evers and others to reform the correctional system.
“I accept this award on behalf of WISDOM and the 11 state affiliates that we represent,” he said. “I truly work alongside some dynamic and diverse people. They allow me to do this work and they allow me to work alongside them, so I think God for that.
“I also accept this award on behalf of my answers and on behalf of my family,” he added. “I thank Dr. King because he said that I could be great because I could serve. And that’s why I serve. My soul is truly happy. My soul is truly grateful.”
The event also featured a performance by Fall Gospel Fest Choir, founded by Clyde Gaines, organizer of Fall Gospel Fest, Madison’s premier gospel music event.
The keynote speaker was Dr. Ollie Watts Davis, the Suzanne and William Allen Distinguished Professor of Music, Provost’s Fellow and conductor of the award-winning Black Chorus at the University of Illinois. Davis mentioned that she hails from the coalfields of West Virginia and she talked about how she drew inspiration from African-American opera singer Marian Anderson’s famous 1939 Lincoln Memorial Concert.
“Marian Anderson is a major figure in the stand for justice and she is joined by other women including Ella Baker, Diane Nash, Rosa Parks, Coretta Scott King, Fannie Lou Hamer, Merle Evers, Marian Wright Edelman, Mother Alberta King … and many, many more too numerous to name,” she said. “And I must mention the music of black America which is an important character in the movement for civil rights and has provided the soundtrack for this revolution.
“I stand before you today in this strength and to give the recognition to these forerunners the honor they deserve,” she added. “And I don’t stand alone. You see, I’m packing deep today.”
Davis, to the delight of the crowd, was referring to her two daughters and two of her grandchildren who were with her at the event.
“A stand for justice is a high road,” Davis said. “It may appear threatening. We may be threatened and we have to be the threat. Do we have the will? Do we have the courage? Those born into privilege, those who hold positions, and those voted into power must be willing to take a stand … to stand for justice. We must realize that we are in the places we are in and we hold the positions we hold in order to serve our generation for such a time as this.
“We are custodians of the movement and we must develop the work that Dr. King started,” she added. “We must use our power to transform society for the better. We must make the suffering of the oppressed visible to the point where it can no longer be ignored.”