Rev. Wanda J. Washington, the first African-American female member of the United Church of Christ to start a new church in Wisconsin, will deliver the keynote address at the 19th annual Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration Monday, Jan. 18 at 6:30 p.m. in the Lawrence Memorial Chapel, 510 E. College Ave.
The celebration, presented by Lawrence University and Toward Community: Unity in Diversity with the support of numerous organizations, individuals and churches throughout the Fox Valley, is free and open to the public. The Post-Crescent and WFRV-TV CBS 5 are media partners for the event.
The theme for this year’s celebration — “Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that” — is drawn from King’s 1963 book “Strength to Love,” a collection of some of his classic sermons on social justice and non-violence.
“Those are more than just words Dr. King delivered, they resonate with me as the true essence of Dr. King and his life’s work,” said Kathy Flores, the chair of the MLK Committee and the intercultural relations coordinator for the city of Appleton. “Dr. King may have died by an act of violence, but he lived by acts of love and light. We hope that Fox Valley residents will join us for the celebration to hear Rev. Washington’s message of love conquering hate as we celebrate Dr. King’s life and are reminded that his legacy lives on through us.”
Pa Lee Moua, Lawrence’s assistant dean of students for multicultural affairs, said King’s message remains vitally relevant today.
“Although history reflects what has been done in the past, it’s still very much a part of our future,” said Moua. “Dr. King’s mission has and will continue to shape our nation and the lives of our children for many generations to come. Individually, it is our responsibility to continue his legacy by serving our community and striving for equality and social justice for all. As a community we need to stand together, lead by example and inspire others to make a difference.”
Washington, who spent 20 years as a special education teacher working with deaf and blind students in Glen Ellyn, Ill., before pursuing a master’s of divinity degree, will speak on the power of hope, the many positive changes King hoped would occur in the country and the importance of people remaining hopeful in the face of adversity.
After graduating from the Chicago Theological Seminary, Washington served as associate pastor at Chicago’s Trinity United Church of Christ for more than 10 years. In 2006, she moved to Wisconsin and started Grace United Church of Christ in Milwaukee. The church now serves more than 200 members.
Highlighting the evening’s celebration will be the annual presentation by Toward Community of the organization’s Jane LaChapelle McCarty Unity in Diversity Award, which recognizes an area individual who has made great strides in bringing different people in the community together.
The celebration also will feature area students reading their winning essays focused on King’s theme of love triumphing over hate as well as musical performances by the Menasha High School Marching Band and singer Sirgourney Tanner, a Lawrence senior.
A sign language interpreter will be present for the program and a reception for all in attendance will be held following the event.