“When I was in fourth grade, Dr. Martin Luther King was killed and we would sing protest songs in school and there were so many things at the time that inspired activism in me and influenced me to be the person I am today,” remembers Annie Weatherby-Flowers. “I think if we all look back at our youth, there is a pivotal moment where something shifted and our trajectory changed. Hopefully, we get this opportunity to plant that seed that can be watered, nurtured and grows into a tree and be a change that that young person wants to see in their community.”
Weatherby-Flowers hopes to inspire young people — middle and high school youth — who will come together virtually on Monday, Jan. 17, 10 a.m.-1 p.m. for the MLK Day Youth Call to Service. Weatherby-Flowers is a King Coalition member and community engagement coordinator at Madison Public Library, where the MLK Day Youth Call to Service was held last year.
“It’s one of my favorite events because the kids always learn something new and they bring their own perspectives. It’s a wonderful opportunity,” Weatherby-Flowers tells Madison365. “Originally, we were targeting 80 young people when we thought it was going to be an in-person event. Now that we’re going to be virtual, we’re really doing wider recruitment.”
The King Coalition hosts the annual MLK Day Youth Call to Service in partnership with the City of Madison, Dane County, MSCR, Madison Out of School Time (MOST), Madison Public Library, and the Urban League of Greater Madison.
Andrew Schilcher, the director of Middle School Programs for the Urban League of Greater Madison, is one of the organizers of this annual event.
“For the event, we will kick things off with some welcoming remarks from [ULGM CEO] Dr. Ruben Anthony and [MMSD Superintendent] Dr. Carlton Jenkins, followed by a recorded performance from the Sennett Middle School dance team, which will be followed by three rotations of workshops,” Schlicher tells Madison365.
“The three workshops we will offer will include Dane County Sheriff Kalvin Barrett discussing his journey from childhood to his current career in law enforcement, a facilitated panel of high school students discussing their experiences with bullying, and a YWCA-facilitated circle process focusing on community violence, bullying, and social media,” he adds.
The event will be capped off with a brief call to service following the third workshop rotation.
“The young people will commit to a pledge to do something in line with Dr. King’s dream. Young people will be called to action and will make a commitment on how to make this community better,” Weatherby-Flowers says.
The inspirational event is for both high schoolers and middle schoolers. Weatherby-Flowers says it’s important to get started early.
“When I was in fourth grade, I knew that I wanted to go to college because of what I was exposed to – Black teachers who went to HBCUs or other universities that always stressed that education is the great equalizer in our community,” she remembers. “That conversation spurred this movement to focus on college readiness for middle-schoolers.
“One of the things that we really don’t highlight about the Civil Rights Movement is that it was the young people who marched and did sit-ins,” she adds. “I really want kids to understand and to really get exposed to the actions of those young people that were hosed down and attacked by dogs. We can’t forget them. And we can’t forget the young people of the Little Rock 9.”
Weatherby-Flowers says that she is disappointed that it won’t be a live-and-in-person event this year, but that they are being strategic in how they engage kids during the pandemic.
“It will still be a very powerful event. Because we are connecting to kids who are connected to so many other programs, we’re hoping we can keep them participating together and kind of keep them in pods within the context of their schools,” she says.
“I want to highlight to our young people that they have a responsibility. Civil service is something that you can embrace as a young person. There’s so much you can do. Young people have the energy and they have a voice. If you are doing things at age 15, by the time you’re 65, you will have a 50-year legacy of social justice and activism.”
While some young people will be taking Monday off for MLK Day, other young people will be spending a day exploring service and activism as they honor Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
“As older folks, we have to stop looking at our young people from a deficit model but to look at them in a place of empowerment and how we can engage them to empower them to be decision-makers and community activists,” Weatherby-Flowers says.
“We’re excited about this event,” she adds. “We want young people to know that they can have a voice and that they can make a difference not only in their communities but in their states, the nation and around the globe.”