Speaking Out About Things That Matter
The 2016 Missoula Martin Luther King Jr. Day Celebration theme was based off of Dr. King’s quote, “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” Throughout the whole day youth and adults from Missoula, as well as across Montana, spoke out about issues that matter to our community.
The MLK Day Celebration started off at Caras Park with a rally organized by NCBI’s Youth Advisory Council. The community concern that these youth wanted to highlight was the impact that depression, self-harm and suicide is having on young people in our community. The event was opened with a beautiful song by Missoula First Night Winner, Leila Parsons. Dexter Crago, a Sophomore, talked about the effects of suicide, breaking the isolation, and shared a story of a time he de-escalated someone who was trying to attempt suicide. Shae Noland, a Sophomore, spoke about her personal struggles of depression and the stigma she has experienced with it. Aurora Staggs, a Junior, spoke about the dangers of apathy saying, “If I were to address every person who felt this way… I’d suggest they do something I often discourage, have faith. Allow themselves to believe that beyond reason, that life on earth can be more celebration than strife. People can bond together in times of fear instead of turning against one another. I’d dare them to believe in a world worth saving.” The rally closed with a powerful spoken word performance from YAZ, a hip-hop artist from Browning. The group of 100+ people then marched to St. Paul’s Lutheran Church.
Followed by a march from Caras Park hundreds of Missoulians gathered for the community celebration at St. Paul’s Lutheran Church. The celebration got started by an interfaith invocation led by Samir Bitar, Lecturer for Arabic Language at the University of Montana, Laurie Franklin, Spiritual Leader & Student Rabbi at Har Shalom Synagogue, and Rev. Chris Flohr, Senior Pastor at St. Paul’s Lutheran Church. These Missoula faith leaders continued the theme of speaking out about things that matter by talking about islamophobia and how people from all walks of life must challenge the targeting of individuals and communities of people because of their religion.
Leshawn George, who is the President of the Black Student Union at the University of Montana, emceed the celebration and connected issues of racial justice, income disparity and gender discrimination in his opening remarks.
Superintendent of Public Instruction Denise Juneau was this year’s MLK Day Celebration keynote speaker. She is the first Native American woman to hold statewide elected office in the State of Montana. Denise pointed out the impact NCBI’s youth leaders have when she said, “I also want to give a shout out to NCBI. They do great work in promoting equality and justice in our schools and communities all across this state. I’m always impressed with NCBI’s student leaders who show us how minds and hearts can change if we learn to appreciate and understand our differences. And be reminded that there’s so much more we have in common than what sets us apart.”
The MLK Day Community Celebration concluded with a presentation of the Youth Art & Essay Contest winners. Every year the winning art pieces and essays are published in the Missoulian and the first place winners of the essays get to read their piece at the celebration. A highlight of this year’s essay contest was this poem by Cecelia Parker, a 6th Grader from Frenchtown:
Should we keep our silence
The world will start to fall
Our peace will crumble to chaos
With shouts and cries and calls.
The people will start to wonder
If freedom will ever return.
For how can we be truly happy
When freedom is something we yearn.
Fear will strike the hearts
Of those who are deemed lesser
Will we all step back
While inequality starts to fester?
No, when we see someone
Who needs help from hand and heart
Take a stand for what you know
For that is what sets us apart.
It’s true that kindness must always reign
With safety for women and man
So we can live with surety
Close together, hand in hand.
The final part of the day long celebration of Martin Luther King’s life is the community meal. As usual Murray Pierce cooked an amazing meal and members of the Missoula community got a chance for deeper connections.
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