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KENOSHA — While the life and words of the slain civil rights leader are often at the center of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day celebrations, in recent years the holiday has been used to emphasize the importance of public service.

On Monday, hundreds from across Racine and Kenosha counties packed into an auditorium at Gateway Technical College’s Kenosha’s campus, 3520 30th Ave., to celebrate King’s work. Participants also took time to honor six Racine County residents with Humanitarian Awards: Rev. Lawrence Terry; Alex Hart-Upendo; Jeffrey and Nicole Urquhart; and Warren and Joannie Williams.

The title and theme of the celebration was “The King in You.”

Gateway President and CEO Bryan Albrecht noted that honoring the “King in each of us” is the best way to keep King’s dream alive.

“I think if we celebrate the King in each of us, we have a deep reflection of the role that we can play to help inspire future generations,” Albrecht said. “For it is only you and I who can keep King’s dream alive through our actions, our values, and our obligations to each other.”

‘Shining examples’

The award recipients were each nominated for their efforts to give back to their community:

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  • A retired Racine Unified principal, Terry was recognized for his involvement in the civil rights struggles of the 1960s, his volunteer work and his ongoing service as the president of the Racine Branch of the NAACP.
  • Hart-Upendo, a 10-year-old entrepreneur from Racine, was recognized for his Build a Bow business, which he uses to help promote an anti-bullying message.
  • The Urquharts were nominated for their business Baby Express, which aims to reduce Racine’s infant mortality rate.
  • And, the Williamses were honored for their efforts in helping establish the new Homeless Overnight Sanctuary (HOST), the Racine area’s new low-barrier shelter.

“Martin Luther King was a prophet. I don’t think that I am a prophet, but I think I speak for those who don’t have a voice, and when I am advocating for someone else, not for Joannie but for someone else, I’m fearless,” said Joannie Williams of the honor in a short video produced by Gateway.

The film featured each of the award recipients speaking about how they try to live by King’s example.

U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis., who spoke at the event, called each of the award winners “shining examples of the power and strength that we gain as a community when we commit ourselves to the idea that we are all in it together.”

The keynote speaker, state Rep. David Bowen, D-Milwaukee, noted in his remarks that he is glad to be in a group of people who don’t just pay lip service to King’s life, but who build upon the foundation that he laid.

“It is definitely our turn to hold up the mirror — the same mirror that the civil rights movement held up to the face of America to say ‘you can be better.’ ”

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