"There is beauty even in the scars."
So says Jalaal Madyun, a Buena Vista University student, speaking on the joyous yet so often painful bloom of civil rights history, during the Martin Luther King Jr. Birthday Celebration in Storm Lake Friday evening.
A large crowd, as ethnically diverse as the crazyquilt of humanity addressed by the civil rights movement itself, came out to see students, from elementary school to college age, come together to honor King's ideals.
Moments of the cermony were touching. Connie Vieyra, a BVU student and native of Mexico, spoke on her first day in Storm Lake - being stunned as people repeatedly waved to her on the streets, in a feeling of welcome she never imagined possible. She said her hope for the future is for that warm feeling of inclusion to spread through the community and eventually the world. "The children of today will have all the ideals you choose to teach them," she said. "If we all harness the lessons we learned as children (we would be) one big family."
Her goal: to work for the first woman president, an accomplishment she is confident she will see in her lifetime.
Elementary students of the Tornado Academy program read poems of their dreams, including a world without violence and crime.
Madyun spoke to the audience about the things he had heard from his grandmother, her memories of terrible incidents of discrimination and hate seen in the American south, and how the world has changed in the two generatons that followed.
"Look at us - we are all different, but we are all in one place, celebrating together..." he said. "Why stay in the dark when the light is so warm and fruitful?"
God created people to be different, he added, so they might learn from one another.
The celebration grew colorful. The middle school learning club Reader's Theater presented a spoken play about overcoming an era when "whites only" signs were common and black and white children were told never to play together. The colors of the young faces spread across the stage stood in happy contrast to that time.
Storm Lake High School students whirled into a Mexican folk dance, Nepali and Indian dancers brought their gently expressive movements to the stage, and members of the high school choir left the auditorium throbbing in a powerful version of "Let There be Peace on Earth."
The event had a practical purpose as well, seeking to encourage the community in years to come to adopt a Martin Luther King Day of Service program in which all would volunteer on the holiday to help make their community a better place. More information about the possibilities of such an event is available from the BVU chaplain's office.
"I hope this is something you will take with you and use the rest of your lives," Madyun said of the King Birthday event, planned jointly by BVU, CommUnity Education and the Storm Lake schools.
There are still goals to be achieved in the civil rights movement, he noted. "Every battle is not won. After the rain, comes the sun." He encouraged the crowd to value the sacrifices of the leaders who came before, and to continue their work by serving the world around us, tomorrow.
Until the phrases of discrimination that are thrown at human beings are made to sound like foolish relics of a distant past, the work is not done, he said.
In closing, a video was shown of children around the world in moments of joy and heartbreak, the unspoken message leaping off the screen that peoples are more alike than they are different. "There is no foot too small, that it cannot leave an imprint," its text read.
The voice of the late John Lennon singing "Imagine" filled the room. The video asked for the crowd to "imagine if there were no borders..." a particularly timely message for today's debates.
Well, can you?