By Stephanie Hoff
Dr. Ollie Watts Davis’ message on Monday was for those born into privilege, those who hold position and those who were voted into power to take a stand for justice.
“We must recognize injustice, racial bias and inequity in the criminal justice system and policing, disparities in education and health care, unemployment and underemployment and make the suffering of the oppressed visible to the point where it cannot be ignored,” said Davis, professor of music at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and guest speaker at the Wisconsin State Capitol’s Martin Luther King Jr. Day ceremony.
She was one of several guest speakers who encouraged the audience to love one’s neighbor as oneself and that it’s one’s personal duty to “stand for justice” – the theme for the event.
Music was also a central theme in Monday’s ceremony in the Capitol rotunda, which featured several artists and groups with violins, voices, cellos and pianos that entertained a full house.
“Music of black America was important to the character of the civil rights movement,” said Davis. She added that King was inspired by singer Mary Anderson, who sang for justice in front of the Lincoln Memorial.
“Dr. King believed in the healing power of song,” said Dr. Jonathon Overby, executive producer of Wisconsin’s annual tribute. “There’s music in this program because of the power in music that draws people together.”
The program encouraged audience participation in singing, greeting one another, joining hands, and the tradition of passing the proclamation plaque.
Gov. Tony Evers was on hand to award the MLK Heritage Award to the Rev. Willie Brisco, who is currently working with the guv and others to reform Wisconsin’s correctional system.
Evers presented another MLK Heritage Award to Corinda Rainey-Moore, a mental health professional in Dane County and advocate, for her work empowering people who suffer from mental illness.
This was Wisconsin’s 40th annual MLK Tribute and Ceremony, the longest standing MLK tradition of any U.S. state. Evers didn’t address the crowd, but he included a letter in the ceremony’s printed program where he reminded guests about the takeaway message.
“Today, as we celebrate Dr. King’s life, we are presented with the opportunity to reflect on the importance of supporting others when they need a helping hand, and to ask ourselves what we can do to stand for justice every day,” the message read.