Annual Martin Luther King Jr. Community Celebration Focuses on “Building a Just World”

Rev. Wanda Washington, founding pastor of Grace United Church of Christ in Milwaukee, makes an encore appearance as the keynote speaker at the 22nd annual Martin Luther King Jr., community celebration of the late civil rights leader Monday, Jan. 21 at 6:30 p.m. in the Lawrence Memorial Chapel.  The event is free and open to the public.

Rev. Wanda Washington

Presented by Lawrence University and Toward Community: Unity in Diversity, with the support of numerous Fox Valley organizations, churches, and individuals, this year’s celebration features the theme “Building a Just World.” The Post-Crescent and The Avenue 91.1 are media sponsors of the event.

“Lawrence University is pleased and honored to once again welcome the Fox Cities community to Memorial Chapel for the annual Martin Luther King Jr. event,” said Nancy Truesdell, vice president for student affairs and dean of students. “Our students, faculty and staff will spend the day engaged in service projects and small group book discussions that will culminate in the evening celebration focused on the topic of building a just world. It remains so important that members of our community come together to remember the work and teachings of Dr. King so that his message of social justice and peace is carried on through young and old alike.”

Washington, who also delivered the 2010 MLK Jr. celebration keynote address, will use the movie “Shawshank Redemption” as a backdrop for this year’s remarks entitled “Hope is a Dangerous Thing.”  She will discuss the importance of “tunneling through today’s challenges” and always remaining hopeful no matter how difficult a situation may be.

Called to the Ministry

Born and raised in Chicago, Washington spent 20 years as a special education teacher in Illinois, working with deaf-blind students at the Philip J. Rock Center. In 1986, she left her position as educational supervisor to accept a call to ministry, enrolling in the Chicago Theological Seminary where she earned a Master’s of Divinity degree.

Ordained in 1993, Washington served as associate pastor and director of pastoral services at Chicago’s Trinity United Church of Christ for 13 years, assisting families with funeral services, participating in weekly worship services, including preaching in the absence of the senior pastor and supervising more than 100 “ministers in training” who were attending seminary.

Washington followed another call in the spring of 2006, moving to Milwaukee to tackle the challenge of starting a new church. She became the founding pastor of Grace United Church of Christ, a position she held until retiring in 2012 and moving to Indianapolis to be near her grandchildren.

In addition to her divinity degree, Washington earned a bachelor’s degree from MacMurray College and a master’s degree from Ohio State University.

“The life and legacy of Dr. King challenges each and every one of us to help build a more just and peaceful world in our communities, workplaces, neighborhoods and families,” said Kathy Flores, chair of the MLK Planning Committee and diversity coordinator for the city of Appleton. “Rev. Washington returns by popular demand and I expect she’ll deliver another rousing, inspiring and thoughtful message. Like Dr. King, Rev. Washington has used her ministry as a voice to help build a just world.”

Annual Diversity Award

As part of the celebration, Toward Community will present its annual 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. Appleton Mayor Tim Hanna was the 2012 recipient.

Four area students will be recognized as winners of the annual Martin Luther King essay contest and will read their winning entries while Lawrence junior Zoie Reams and university organist Kathrine Hanford will provide musical performances.

This year’s celebration also will feature a special tribute honoring Dr. G. Manns, a local pastor, community leader and long-time volunteer in the annual MLK celebration, who passed away Jan. 8.

A tireless advocate for racial and social justice, children and all marginalized people in the community, Manns was the founder and senior pastor of Appleton Sanctuary Outreach Ministries. She founded and served as CEO of B.A.B.E.S. Respite & Counseling Services, a child abuse prevention program that provides support for young parents. She was a founding member of Toward Community: Unity in Diversity, worked with African Heritage, Inc. and was a past board member of Harbor House Domestic Abuse Programs.

A sign language interpreter will be present for the program and a reception for all in attendance will be held following the event.

About Lawrence University
Founded in 1847, Lawrence University uniquely integrates a college of liberal arts and sciences with a nationally recognized conservatory of music, both devoted exclusively to undergraduate education. It was selected for inclusion in the Fiske Guide to Colleges 2013 and the book “Colleges That Change Lives: 40 Schools That Will Change the Way You Think About College.” Individualized learning, the development of multiple interests and community engagement are central to the Lawrence experience. Lawrence draws its 1,500 students from nearly every state and more than 50 countries. Follow Lawrence on Facebook.