Community members will honor the memory of a civil rights leader next week with words and song. But the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s legacy extends beyond any single day of festivity.
So when La Crosse-area residents celebrate the national holiday established in King’s name at 7 p.m. Monday at Viterbo University’s Fine Arts Center Main Theater, part of the event’s goal is to encourage people to continue King’s iconic struggle for equality.
“Find an individual way to make that awareness, and make that life application for yourself,” event organizer Barbara Martin-Stanley said. “What service can you give to someone else?”
The Coulee Region Gospel Choir and the Viterbo Choir are slated to perform at the free public event. The 9th Street Singers, a small choral ensemble that performs pop, classical and jazz music, will also perform.
Guest speaker the Rev. Andre Johnson of the Memphis Theological Seminary will discuss King’s work in a presentation titled “From a Dream to a Mountain Top and Beyond: Martin Luther King Jr. and the African American Prophetic Tradition.”
Johnson is an author and scholar specializing in the civil rights movement. He serves as the Dr. James L. Netters Assistant Professor of Rhetoric and Religion and African American Studies at the Memphis seminary.
Retired University of Wisconsin-La Crosse professor Dr. James R. Parker will accept the 2013 MLK Leadership Award.
Parker, 71, developed and taught UW-L’s first African-American history class in 1969, a class that was open to both students and members of the community.
The area was less diverse at the time, and some were less than willing to embrace King’s message, Parker said.
“They thought of it as privileging one segment of a society,” Parker said. “When, in fact, for a large portion of our history, African-Americans had been written out.”
The event also includes the presentation of an award to the winner of a high school essay writing contest.
The day is designed to celebrate King’s nonviolent techniques and his ability to inspire others to action. King led by establishing relationships with people in the communities he worked with, organizer Dempsey E. Miller III said.
“He showed what servant leadership looked like,” Miller said.
King’s work wasn’t limited to the causes of the African-American civil rights struggle, Martin-Stanley said. Likewise, Monday’s celebration is open to the whole community.
“It transcended and went across the barriers of culture, race, gender,” Martin-Stanley said. “He’s a great American. Period.”