“All that is necessary for evil to succeed is that good men do nothing.” – Edmund Burke

Hundreds of area residents attended the 34th Annual Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Birthday Celebration at Uihlein Hall of the Marcus Center for the Performing Arts on January 14. Milwaukee and Atlanta are the only cities to have celebrated Dr. King’s Birthday annually since 1984.

“The theme for this year is ‘Take a Stand for Truth and Justice.’ These words were spoken by Dr. King in 1967, and they are certainly timeless,” said Paul Mathews, President and CEO of the Marcus Center. “With what our country is experiencing today, they are as relevant now – over 50 years later – as they were back then.”

More than 3,000 Milwaukee Public Schools students submitted work for the celebration. Winners were chosen by a jury for speech, visual art, and writing for students in kindergarten through grade 12.

“Standing up for justice means treating people of all races, religions, ethnicities, identities, and backgrounds in an equal manner,” said Ameen Atta from Salam High School, who won first place in his speech (Grades 9-10). “Standing up for justice means condemning intolerant remarks of elected officials who encourage or tolerate police brutality, insult women using degrading remarks, use ethnic slurs towards Hispanics and others, and who call for a ban against Muslims.”

Along with the student contest winners, performances from community organizations included the Milwaukee Flyers Tumbling Team, Milwaukee High School of the Arts Jazz Ensemble, Latino Arts Strings, United Indians of Milwaukee, and One Nation for Youth Arts & Healing (O.N.F.Y.A.H).

“One of my favorite sermons by Dr. King is from 1957, and it’s on Matthew 26 and 27. He talked about loving thy neighbor, and the slightly more difficult task of loving thy enemy,” said Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele. “Dr. King was very frank about what it means, that if God can love the sinner – if He can love everyone – who are we to do anything less?

County Executive Abele has attended and supported the MLK Birthday Celebration for more than a decade. He explained King’s point in the sermon, that to show love did not mean we have to like what people do, or like what people say. But that we do not define ourselves by what we are against. Instead, we define ourselves by what we are for.

Co-Emcee again this year was Janan Najeeb, President of the Milwaukee Muslim Women’s Coalition, who has been involved in the annual celebration for a decade and a half, helping to transform the event to honor Dr. King and Milwaukee’s ethnic diversity. The program’s entertainment has reflected that purpose over the past 34 years, with special presentations from Hmong, Chinese, Irish, African, Middle Eastern, and Latino community groups. Senior Vice President of the Milwaukee Bucks, Alex Lasry Co-Emceed along with Najeeb.

“When I think of Dr. Martin Luther King, I think of his moral clarity and his ability to talk to individuals throughout the world,” said Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett. “Anyone who has studied his writings or his life must be moved. He had the ability to appeal to our better angels.”