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Friday, Aug. 22, 2014

The Dream is still alive in SL

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Sunday afternoon, they were still marching, if only to South School Auditorium, far removed from the volatile south and the civil rights revolution of the volatile 1960s.

In what organizers hope will be the first of an annual tradition of local celebrations for Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday, they were still marching for equality and peace.

The participants - all of them much too young to have seen any of King's struggles first-hand - could still see applications of his ideals in the ethnically-diverse society of Storm Lake, they said. In speeches, songs and interpretive dance, they sought to exhibit that they, too "have a dream."

Fifteen students from Storm Lake elementaries and middle school, along with St. Mary's and Concordia, combined to recite the famous King speech, with letters spelling out a happy birthday for the slain civil rights leader.

Clay Sanders, of the Buena Vista University Intercultural program, said that Storm Lake has shows much progress toward understanding, and is in position to serve as the model community, following the lead of King.

Nichol Kleespies, a BVU graduate and day care owner who was a leader in multicultural efforts during her years on campus, said that younger children today do not know who Dr. King was, but they are curious. The Storm Lake event was planned in large part to reach out to the children in the community, with free King t-shirts to all children who attended.

"He would be proud of our Storm Lake school district, and the way we all work and learn together," Kleespies said. Still, they need to be taught to stand up for what they believe is right, and to be aware that one person can make a difference, she said.

"Dr. King said that service is the new definition of greatness," she said, encouraging all who attended to be active in volunteering in the community.

BVU student Janet Pedroza delivered a speech in Spanish, saying that the community and the world "needs leaders who see far above the prejudice around us."

No one is born a leader - they are called upon by their society, she said. "Somewhere, a leader is dying - but another is being born" to continue the work toward justice, peace and equality.

She said Storm Lakers should take great pride in their diversity, but also be watchful to prevent any hate or violence from creeping in.

Storm Lake teacher Ryan Berg also spoke, telling the crowd about some of the efforts that are going on in the classroom - not only to teach about the civil rights struggles of the past, but to make them aware that injustices based on race continue today.

Berg said that he grew up in rural Iowa, in a community that had no racial diversity. "Martin Luther King Jr. was just a figure in a textbook," he said.

He said that he has worked to learn as his life has gone on - including a trip to the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis. He and his wife had the powerful experience of standing on the same spot where King was shot.

"I hope to help students reach the same realizations that I have, but hopefully sooner than I did," Berg said.

The teacher said he is proud to live in Storm Lake, with all of the diversity to experience here. Still, there is more that can be done to draw people closer together, he feels.

He urged all those who took part in the event to look at people of other backgrounds in the community and "put yourself in their shoes for a moment."

Finally, BVU Multicultural Director Leon Williams portrayed Dr. King for a speech as King might give it if he were alive today.

As King, Williams said that he is not satisfied by how far we have come - not as long as there is a disparity between quality of education in public and private schools; not as long as people are welcomed into the county on the northern border and fenced out on the southern.

People cannot stop working while there is still violence, hate, war, racial profiling and human suffering, he said.

Today's society looks to role models in Hollywood instead of in the classroom, Williams said in character. They know everything about black athletes, but nothing about the leaders of the civil rights movement.

"Our work is not over," he said.



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