Drivers and pedestrians greeted middle school children holding signs marching down King Street leaving the Madison Municipal Building on their way to Overture Center for the Arts in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on Monday afternoon.
“We really wanted kids to just get the message of this is a call to service kind of day. Martin Luther King was a huge advocate and working within the community,” Urban League of Greater Madison Volunteer Coordinator Katy Johnson said.
The students agreed to participate in a daylong event on their day off from school to learn about Dr. King’s legacy through poetry, song and volunteerism. All of these activities were part of the MLK Day Youth Call to Service, a combined effort of the King Coalition, Urban League of Greater Madison, Madison Public Library, United Way of Dane County, Madison School & Community Recreation and the City of Madison.
“We’ve done events like this in the past where it’s just a day of service but we wanted students to know that it’s not just today that you should volunteers and work in the community,” Johnson said.
She said Madison Public Library Community Engagement Coordinator Annie Weatherby-Flowers approached the Urban League about the event. Weatherby-Flowers also serves as a member of the King Coalition, an organization responsible for planning some of the weekend’s events around the city. Johnson said the planning committee intended for the MLK Day Youth Call to Service to motivate students to think about service year-round.
She said the planning committee began meeting in November. After sharing the information with the coordinators in the Schools of Hope, they saw a successful turnout of middle school students on Monday.
“I think that’s an age that they are trying to figure out who they are and understand where they belong in society,” Johnson said.
She said sharing with the students why volunteering and giving back to the community is important helps instills those messages earlier on empowering them to become leaders. Students received the opportunity to learn how to write poetry about their experiences in their environment as well as sing freedom songs passed down from the Civil Rights Movement.
Many of them showed up eager to participate and ask questions as they did in a session focused specifically on volunteerism. After learning about the history of the Civil Rights Movement and Dr. King’s legacy, students made signs addressing the concerns of their generation before hitting the streets.
“They’re kind of getting to the age where they can make decisions for themselves and speak up for themselves, figuring out their own beliefs,” Johnson said.
Chaperoned by volunteers, the children chanted and sang songs as they made their way to the Overture Center. Dozens of students entered the center to sing more freedom songs before the 34th Annual Madison-Dane County King Holiday Observance Monday evening.