Hundreds of residents made their way to Overture Center for the Arts for the 34th Annual Madison-Dane County King Holiday Observance on Monday evening.
The program featured a performance by the Martin Luther King Jr. Community Choir, a presentation of the MLK Humanitarian Award and words from some of Madison’s esteemed community members. Civil Rights Activist Cheryl Brown Henderson — one of the Browns in Brown v. Board of Education, gave the keynote this year. The King Coalition, the organizers of the program, dedicated the night to the late Dr. Mercile J. Lee, a founding member and pioneer for the University of Wisconsin-Madison Chancellor’s and Powers-Knapp Scholars program.
“Dr. King left us the roadmap and it is up to us to find the path to live up to his dream,” Overture Center of the Arts Director of Diversity & Inclusion Ed Holmes said as he welcomed everyone.
A portion of the night’s collection went towards the Mercile J. Lee Chancellor’s Scholarship Fund. The observation program was a celebration of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s legacy and the work done in service to the Madison community.
After an invocation by Minister Janice Toliver from the Christ of Solid Rock Baptist Church and musical selections from the MLK Community Choir, Mayor Paul Soglin and State Assemblywoman Shelia Stubbs awarded educator Shayla Glass and community leader Anthony Cooper with the Humanitarian Award.
“I encourage all of you to do something for the community,” Cooper said.
Cooper received an award for his work for Nehemiah Center for Urban Leadership Development as Director of Reentry Service and most recently as Vice President of Strategic Partnerships and Reentry Services. He thanked his family and credited his sons for inspiring him to redirect his life.
Glass, also an award recipient, co-founded the Black Equity Council at Badger Ridge Middle School to address academic and discipline disparities among African American students, and joined the Circles of Support program as a lead seventh and eighth grade Black Girls group facilitator. She is a seventh-grade teacher at Badger Ridge Middle School in the Verona Area School District.
“She is a Dane County force to be recognized,” Stubbs said of Glass.
After an introduction by Holmes, Henderson gave her keynote address empowering voters to keep up the momentum from the 2018 midterm elections, which swept Democrats to power in the House of Representatives. She also gave the audience a history lesson while reminding people of the civil rights milestones of the last six years, which she said were overshadowed by police brutality and other acts of intolerance.
“In an awful lot of ways, 2014 looked exactly like 1964,” Henderson said.
She encouraged everyone to become politically active at all levels to fill the membership rosters of organizations like the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). Henderson said people woke up after the 2016 Presidential Elections and showed up for the 2018 Midterm Election, referring to the “blue wave.”
She also redirected a call to action to the crowd while using the Brown v. Board of Education as a reference guide for application of democracy. Henderson said the case was simply a bridge between the theory of democracy and how we practiced it. She asked the crowd, “What is your legacy going to be? Is it going to be that you’re really good with the remote control or that you stood up, that you showed up?”
Henderson told the audience to write their own story and control their own narrative, because if they don’t, someone else will. This includes working towards a better future. She also said the founding documents codified second-class citizenship for people of color and women.
“We the People was never intended to be we the people of color. It was never intended to be we the women, we the disabled or we the LGBT,” Henderson said.
During her keynote, she also reminisced on the idea of the village and bringing up the next generation while protecting their future. Henderson said the power of hope cannot be overstated and that hope is something every person should have.