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Ilyasah Shabazz, 2022 MLK Humanitarian Award winners highlight 37th Annual MLK Day Observance

Ilyasah Shabazz, an award-winning author, educator, and producer, makes the keynote address at the 37th Annual MLK Day Observance. (Screenshot)

“We must forget our differences and unite toward a common goal,” said Ilyasah Shabazz, daughter of Malcolm X and Betty Shabazz. “We must take the baton. My father said that it would be this generation of young people who would recognize that those in power have misused it, and demand change. Willing to do the necessary work themselves, we must be unified in our shared humanity and our battle against the injustice acts of police brutality. Our goal must be shared. Our plans must be strategic. Our people must be disciplined and selfless. We must constantly push ourselves toward being more loving to one another and every part of our community.”

Shabazz, an award-winning author, educator, producer, was the keynote speaker at the 37th Annual MLK Day Observance hosted by the King Coalition of Madison & Dane County, which took place last night at Mt. Zion Baptist Church Monday night.

The service was moderated by Tahleel Mohieldin of WISC-TV and began with a prayer led by Mt. Zion Pastor Dr. Marcus Allen. The event featured many songs, as it does every year, performed by the MLK Community Choir. Shabazz began her speech addressing the connections her family has to the state of Wisconsin and acknowledged the racial and civil injustice that has occurred during the pandemic. 

“It was the early 1920s in the state of Wisconsin, that Malcolm’s young father, a Reverend and president of the International Industrial Club of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, successfully filed an appeal to then-President (Calvin) Coolidge for the release of Marcus Garvey,” said Shabazz. “It’s because of our connections to Wisconsin that your state has always held a special place in my family’s heart. We give praise to the Almighty. We give praise to our ancestors, particularly the refined, industrious, Indigenous men and women of African ancestry. We give praise to the countless men and women who endured both physical and psychological traumas … who endured the largest forced migration of a people in the history of mankind.

“And yet, we still stand, and we prosper. We are strong. We are vigilant and we are faithful,” Shabazz continued. “We thank you, God, the Almighty, and we thank you, ancestors, for allowing all of us to be here this evening, with your rich blood in our veins together. As a nation we are enduring great challenges, we come together to create hope as we meander through a double pandemic.”

Vanessa McDowell accepts her 2022 MLK Humanitarian Award at Mt. Zion Church. (Screenshot)

During the ceremony, the 2022 Madison & Dane County MLK Humanitarian Awards were presented to Michael Johnson, CEO of the Boys and Girls Club of Dane County; Vanessa McDowell, CEO of WYCA Madison; and Will Green, executive director of Mentoring Positives. City of Madison Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway, Dane County Executive Joe Parisi, and Chair of the MLK Humanitarian Awards Commission Corinda Rainey-Moore presented the honorees with their awards.

“What an honor to receive the Martin Luther King Humanitarian Award,” Johnson said. “I just want to acknowledge our kids at Boys and Girls Club, our staff, our board of directors, our volunteers, and our donors … they helped us do so much work this year and I’m just so honored to be in this class this year and to receive an award like this is something I will cherish for the rest of my life.

“When I think of the work of Dr. Martin Luther King and to have my name associated with him … that’s just very, very special,” he added.

Michael Johnson accepts his MLK Humanitarian Award virtually. (Screenshot)

McDowell accepted her MLK Humanitarian Awards saying, “to be standing here today receiving the award is humbling for me” and shared a quote from Maya Angelou.

“People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

Also during the event, Aaron Bird Bear lead a Litany of Re-dedication and Margarita Avila spoke about a call to action. 

Will Green accepts his 2022 MLK Humanitarian Award at Mt. Zion Church. (Screenshot)

Throughout her keynote speech, Shabazz mentioned leaders like Dr. King, her father, and Fannie Lou Hamer, who fought for voting rights and other civil rights for Black and brown communities in the U.S. She stressed the importance of creating legislation to combat discrimination. 

“Yet, much like Dr. King and my father, Malcolm X, I will not look at this racial pandemic with despair,” said Shabazz. “Each had a hope, that we must manifest. A hope in the capacities of a people that brought my father to Mississippi in 1964, inspiring young students to be critical thinkers, and understand the necessity to think for themselves.

“Indeed, even in our most challenging moments, we must find, create, and become that hope in which our society truly works for everyone,” Shabazz continued. “It means challenging a state with the highest incarceration rate of young, Black and brown men. Where child poverty for Black and brown people is four times that of child poverty for white people. Wisconsin, we must seize that hope and propose legislation that combats these harsh realities.”

For more information about Ilyasah Shabazz and her work, click here. To learn more about the MLK Coalition of Madison and Dane County and their annual events, click here.