Youth share plans on making a difference at Martin Luther King Jr. commemoration
JANESVILLE — Members of the audience held hands with one another as they sang “We Shall Overcome” at the annual commemoration of Martin Luther King Jr. on Saturday at Blackhawk Technical College.
On stage leading the song were six students from Janesville's Parker and Craig high schools, Beloit Memorial High School and UW-Madison. The students read aloud excerpts from the book “Freedom's Children,” by Ellen Levine. The book is filled with stories from people of all ages who fought segregation in the South in the 1950s and 1960s.
Jordan Peyer, 18, was one of the students who read aloud one of the stories.
He said the commemoration and celebration of King is personal to him because his mother is black and a father who is white. He also said King has set an example for him to challenge himself and get involved in his community.
“He inspires me to grow up and go out and do something,” Peyer said. “To make use of the freedom I have.”
Peyer plans to volunteer at such local organizations as ECHO before he heads off to Vassar College in New York.
This year's celebration had a theme focused on youth and how they can make a difference in the world.
During the ceremony, various students listed ways they hope to make the world a better place. Students cited using their music abilities, speaking up for what they believe in, sharing their love with all people and continuing their volunteer work.
At the ceremony five students were recognized for essays they wrote on how they would make the world a better place.
Audrey McManigle, 12, of Aldrich Middle School in Beloit, was one of the winners. She said she would continue her volunteer work at the St. Paul Lutheran Church soup kitchen each Wednesday during the summers and holiday breaks.
King's non-violent tactics in making a change for the better inspires Audrey to continue to volunteer.
“He didn't use violence, he used peace and marches and eventually he did get his message through and I think that was very important,” Audrey said.
Along the walls of the Blackhawk Technical College student commons were art displays. Fourth graders from Harrison Elementary School created a colorful mosaic of King from squares the students painted. Displayed on a nearby wall were paintings of students' hands, each a different color, from second graders at Van Buren Elementary School.
René Bue, bilingual outreach coordinator for Hedberg Public Library and member of the planning committee for the event, said she was consistently impressed with the children's artwork, performances and essays they wrote.
“I feel hopeful (for the future) because of what the students are thinking about and the things they value,” Bue said.
This year's turnout, estimated to be in the low 500s, was not as large as last year's, estimated to be in the upper 500s, Bue said.
“I think the icy roads may have a lot to do with that … I think it was still a great turnout,” Bue said.
Leslie Bridges, 48, Beloit, and Charlene Buggs, 76, Beloit, have been coming to the event for several years.
“It's important to the community of Beloit and Janesville and to continue the community bridge,
Bridges said. “This is one event that does that.”
Even though Bridges is part of a generation that didn't witness the Civil Rights Movement, it is still her responsibility to maintain equality and keep King's dream alive, she said.
Both Bridges and Buggs believe there is room for growth.
“I have seen a lot because I am older,” Buggs said. “We have come a long way, but we have a long way to go.”