KENOSHA — Even with large-scale economic development occurring in the area, some local residents still face significant challenges.
For example, Racine residents recently learned that their city ranked among the worst places in the nation for black people to live, according to a 24/7 Wall St. article that examined household income, poverty rates and unemployment for black people across the area. However, with a new year, local leaders are hoping that those hurdles can be overcome, starting with communication, listening to others and keeping an open mind.
That was the message Monday during the 25th annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day Celebration at Gateway Technical College’s Kenosha campus, 3520 30th Ave. The celebration, which was attended by approximately 450 people and broadcast over the radio, was titled “One Voice, Many Stories.”
The event featured multiple speakers, all with diverse backgrounds and different stories. However, they all spoke about the importance of listening and tolerance.
“That’s what this is all about,” said Gateway Technical College President Bryan Albrecht. “It’s about all the stories people bring in to create one voice … they weave a fabric for our community. And today we get to celebrate that.”
‘Back on the right track’
The keynote address was given by Gregg Riley, a Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. re-enactor, as well as author and speaker. Riley spoke about past problems the nation has faced, mentioning women’s suffrage, the Japanese internment camps during World War II and slavery. He also discussed current issues, including the partial government shutdown and the ongoing immigration debate.
“We have ongoing and persistent, dangerous struggles right here at home,” he said. “How do we get America back on track … how do we get America back on the right track?”
Riley said it will take Americans pushing for better standards from their government in order to create change.
“Speak for the decency in the human interaction,” he said. “It’s going to take all of us, with our very personal stories and backgrounds, to work together in one voice.”
Kirstin Anglea, who served as the environmental education manager at the Urban Ecology Center in Milwaukee, spoke for nearly 20 minutes at the event as well. During her presentation, she had those who attended the event speak for five minutes with each other — sharing their background and story with the person seated adjacent to them.
“I think it’s one thing to talk about the importance of connecting in order for us to really understand the other person,” she said, “but it’s really only when we actually feel what it’s like to connect with someone, and to share a little bit of our story, to have that connection happen.”
Anglea also mentioned that Dr. King spoke often about why we fear each other.
“Fear is an underlying problem in many spaces,” she said. “It keeps us from making connections.”
However, Anglea said making connections is the key to conquering that fear.
“It changes the dynamic, and that’s ultimately whether we are talking about big societal issues or we are talking about a family system,” she said. “To create the space for two people to listen to one another and to connect on a level beyond whatever the issue that is distracting people… it makes us feel differently about how we want to solve the issues we have.”
The Gateway Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration Committee also presented 41 area students with a 2019 Dream Keepers award. These students received the award as part of the Racine Unified School District Peace Mentors program and Kenosha Youth Kindness Awards.
The Peace Mentors Program is part of a Peace Learning Circles Outreach Program at RUSD. Criteria for the program includes being a positive role model, showing kindness and compassion for others and caring for others.
Jillian Stollenwerk, a 14-year-old student at Gifford Elementary School in Caledonia, was excited to be recognized at the event as a Dream Keeper. She helps as a tutor at her school, and also is involved in student government. She will be a freshman at Case High School in the fall.
“I feel really honored,” she said. “It makes me feel good to help others, especially because so many people do need help. It makes me feel like I am doing my part.”
Racine Unified Superintendent Eric Gallien said the students deserve the award because of their kindness and compassion.
“To be acknowledged for that on MLK Day is a huge thing,” he said. “I think the younger you learn that lesson, the better person you become.”