Yesterday afternoon, I attended Milwaukee’s 33rd annual Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Birthday Celebration in the downtown performing arts center. I am not sure if the art, writing, and speech contests have been going on for that long, but the city has been celebrating his birthday that long. Other than Atlanta, no other city has officially been recognizing MLK Jr.’s birthday since 1984 (according to elected city officials and others who spoke at the event.)

As I looked around the audience, I noticed that most of the folks were parents, like me, who had a child participating in the event in some capacity (art, writing, or speech contest winners, or as a dance or musical performer).

I found it ironic that the city that possesses the notorious reputation of being one of the most segregated cities in the U.S. also is one of two cities that has the history of celebrating this holiday the longest. Atlanta’s celebrations are much bigger, of course, with events all over the city, as that was his hometown.

Listening to the first place winners give their speeches, and reading the essays that were printed and distributed yesterday, I noticed a common theme: the kids don’t like the hatred, they are sick of it, they have hope, and they want a better future. Some of the students shared difficult personal stories. But, as one young presenter put it, speaking to this crowd was like “preaching to the choir”. It’s one thing to hear messages like these from adults, but poignant to hear it directly from the mouths of young people who are living out the realities of racial divisiveness in one capacity or another.

Some of these quotes are well-known, so some of these will be familiar, and these are just a few of the many:

Nothing in all the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity.

Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.

We may have all come on different ships, but we’re in the same boat now.

Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be. This is the interrelated structure of reality.

I have decided to stick with love. Hate is too great a burden to bear.

The function of education is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically. Intelligence plus character – that is the goal of true education.

Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.

Change does not roll in on the wheels of inevitability, but comes through continuous struggle.

The soft-minded man always fears change. He feels security in the status quo, and he has an almost morbid fear of the new. For him, the greatest pain is the pain of a new idea.

A nation or civilization that continues to produce soft-minded men purchases its own spiritual death on the installment plan.

People fail to get along because they fear each other; they fear each other because they don’t know each other; they don’t know each other because they have not communicated with each other.

Nonviolence means avoiding not only external physical violence but also internal violence of spirit. You not only refuse to shoot a man, but you refuse to hate him.

We must learn to live together as brothers or perish together as fools.

Courage is an inner resolution to go forward despite obstacles; Cowardice is submissive surrender to circumstances. Courage breeds creativity; Cowardice represses fear and is mastered by it. Cowardice asks the question, is it safe? Expediency asks the question, is it politic? Vanity asks the question, is it popular? But conscience ask the question, is it right? And there comes a time when we must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular, but one must take it because it is right.

I believe that what self-centered men have torn down, men other-centered can build up….