By Jessica Schurmann
The La Crosse Area Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Community Celebration on Monday, Jan. 21 brought audience members to their feet multiple times for standing ovations.
The presentation took place in the Fine Arts Center Main Theater at 7 p.m., drawing a crowd of over 800 people. Andre Johnson, Ph.D., gave the Keynote Address, delivering the message that America must rise above racism and celebrate diversity.
“To celebrate the dream is to live in a community that does not strip you of who you are, but celebrates diversity,” Johnson said.
Author of “The Forgotten Prophet: Bishop Henry McNeal Turner and the African American Prophetic Tradition,” Johnson is an Assistant Professor of Rhetoric and Religion and African American Studies at Memphis Theological Seminary, Tenn.
Johnson’s speech drew out a few “Amen’s” from the crowd, as well as some laughter as he joked about the night’s negative-4 degree weather.
“I felt moved to the point where my heart rate was increasing at the end of the speech,” Mandy Elliott, senior Spanish Education major from Chatfield, Minn. said. “It made me understand the need to celebrate MLK day annually because of its multiple purposes; striving toward non-violence, celebrating diversity, and recognizing that all and children of God.”
A number of speakers and performers complimented Johnson’s speech. The Viterbo Choir sang “I Dreamed of Rain,” with an a capella solo by Jhardon Milton.
Milton also joined Malachi Durant in performing a theatre selection from “The Meeting” by Jeff Stetson. The theatrical performance told a fictional story of a meeting between Malcom X and Martin Luther King Jr. in a Harlem hotel room in 1965.
“The play takes us to the heart of the civil rights movement,” said Janet McLean, associate professor of Theatre and Music Theatre at Viterbo. McLean introduced the performance at the celebration.
Other highlights of the night included award presentations for a High School Essay Award and the Martin Luther King, Jr. Leadership Award, as well as an introductory speech by Richi Johnson, and a song performance by 9th Street Singers.
At the end of the celebration, the audience members rose to their feet once more to join the Viterbo Choir in singing the African American National Anthem, “Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing.”
“Sing a song full of the faith that the dark past has taught us, Sing a song full of hope that the present has brought us. Facing the rising sun of our new day begun, Let us march on till victory is won.”