“Transformative change is not just about access, it’s about creating more opportunities. Transformative leaders create opportunities for the next person because continuing the status quo is simply not enough,” said Aja Brown, mayor of Compton, California. “It is not acceptable to just have a seat at the table, but pull up a few chairs for the next person so they can create opportunities while they’re there.”
Brown was the keynote speaker at the 36th annual “Tribute and Ceremony” honoring Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in the Capitol Rotunda yesterday. The theme of the celebration was “Stand Up, Stand Out – A Call to Community Service.”
This free event 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. It was started in 1981 by then governor Republican Lee Sherman Dreyfus and continued by every governor since. Overby once again served as emcee of the event.
“It’s a call not only to reflect on Dr. King’s life but more importantly it’s a call for each of us to stand up for those in our great nation who cannot stand up for themselves – the poor, the marginalized, the disenfranchised,” Overby told the crowd. “I invite you today in the spirit of Dr. King to embrace the stranger, to transverse to some our nation’s finest moments when we offer hospitality to those who are different … not just because of today’s lingering hatred, but in spite of it.
“Let us stand up here in Wisconsin and reconcile our differences … our mistrust of each other – be they the men or women in blue or a young man of color walking in his neighborhood – hoodie fully deployed — or an international student whose non-Western attire transports us to a place where suspicion and fear linger. Let us stand up and stand out wherever we face hatred,” Overby added. “Today, in the spirit of good community, let us stand up for those very principles that Dr. King stood up for and stood out for. Let us all stand up for inclusion and let’s call Wisconsin – which is our home – a place where we can all invest in and share in in the spirit of Dr. King.”
Overby presented the 2016 MLK Heritage Awards — honoring outstanding work in social justice — to YWCA Every Town girls camp and musician Richard Davis.
Davis, an internationally known bassist and professor of bass (European Classical and Jazz), jazz history and combo improvisation at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, has worked with a variety of famous musicians including Sarah Vaughan, Eric Dolphy, Don Sebesky, Oliver Nelson, Bruce Springsteen, Van Morrison, Frank Sinatra, Barbra Streisand, Miles Davis, and many others.
“I grew up listening to Martin Luther King on the television and the radio. I believed every word he said, it’s just that I knew it would take a lot of work to make it work. If you think humanity can lie dormant, you’re wrong,” Davis told the crowd. “That’s why we’re here today and I encourage you all to make your best effort to love. I encourage you to think like the masterful personality of Martin Luther King. He was way ahead of us – far ahead of us – but he knew which way we needed to be directed towards.”
Brown made history as Compton’s youngest mayor ever to be elected. She won the election by a landslide, defeating both incumbent mayor Eric J. Perrodin and former mayor Omar Bradley. In her keynote speech, Brown addressed distinguished leaders and dignitaries and those in positions of power. “We must ask ourselves a hard question: Do we seek to be only in power with an “I” or empower with an “E”? The modern civil rights movement to me is about impact, empowerment, access and true wealth creation and less about privilege, class, hierarchy and assimilation,” Brown said.
When we consider history, Brown continued, privileged groups seldom give up privilege voluntarily. “Many of us were raised to grow up, get an education, get a great job, disperse and never to return to the very same communities that invested in us,” she said. “The result? An entire generation that has no desire to feel any responsibility to return to the very neighborhoods and communities that invested in their success. The net result is a zero-sum game for the community.”
Brown said that we are in desperate need of a paradigm shift. She said, “To the collective, if we don’t consciously make a decision to make a change in how we define success, appropriately assign value to service, assess the full impact of privilege, and strategically create wealth …. What will the next 50 years of the civil rights movement look like?
“Change is never easy,” she added. “Let us be committed to building up the next generation of leadership and passing on the reins today. Let us all do our part to make Dr. King’s dream a reality.”
Zaria Roller, a 12-year-old freshman from Verona High School Exploration Academy, delivered Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech to close the ceremony.