38th Annual State of Wisconsin King Holiday
Tribute at the State Capitol
Restating Dr. King’s Vision for
|Dr. Jonathan Overby, the producer and director of the
Wisconsin King Tribute, has been involved, in
one capacity or another, with all 38 state tributes.
By Jonathan Gramling
There are two sides to the same coin that is Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s civil
rights legacy. On the one hand, Dr. King fought the injustices of America’s
apartheid system, the system of segregation that kept African Americans, for
the most part, in a second-class citizen status. He led a boycott against
Montgomery bus system in protest of the refusal of storeowners to hire
African Americans. He led the Selma to Montgomery March to protest the
barriers that prevented African Americans from exercising their right to vote.
But Dr. King also had a vision of a beloved community where people of all
races, religions and ethnicities would live in equity and justice together.
In coming up with the theme and program for the 38th Annual Wisconsin
King Tribute, the oldest running King Holiday celebration in the United States,
Dr. Jonathan Overby decided to focus on the latter part of Dr. King’s legacy.
“There are some wonderful things in life worth celebrating,” Overby said.
“And one of those happens to be the fact that we are not all the same and
getting to the place where when you find good community and not always
thinking the same or agreeing the same or seeing the world the same. There
is actually something wonderful about that. And this event, more so than many of the years in the past, is an opportunity to do that.”
At the heart of Dr. King’s message, in Overby’s view, is the ability to love — the foundation of nonviolence — in spite of how people treat you,
in spite of the abuse that the world may heap upon you.
“Dr. King had this innate love of people, not just the so called ‘other,’” Overby said. “He loved people and in many cases, he loved them for
where they were at in life. He was always, in my assessment, attempting to build bridges with those people in a way that speaks to his mission
in life and the legacy that we have come to commemorate here in Wisconsin. That’s the underpinning for me. And so, it has some real viable
elements to this year’s event in terms of remembering Dr. King, but also remembering our own particular travels, our own walks in life to say
we’re at that point in life where we can look at each other and say ‘brother, sister, friend, neighbor’ and do so in a way that says, ‘I love you in
the character and spirit of what Dr. King did.’ His title was Dr. King, but before that it was Rev. Dr. King. His sense of what was the good fight
focused on people who live in poverty, people who are marginalized. It also included a great love for people. I think that is one of the highest
forms of patriotism that you can have, to say, not to diminish those challenges, ‘There is an opportunity for us within the challenges to dine
together and discourse, celebrate each other and have compassion for each other’ in a way that elevates our core values as a nation.”
And within this context of love, the world and all of its beauty can open up before our eyes. It is our diversity which gives us strength.
“There are commonalities, the humanity of people,” Overby said. “In my research, my post-doctorate work at Edgewood College, is focused on
world sacred music, I looked at a number of religions. And in most religions of the world, there are some core values that are the same. And
those are hospitality to strangers, peace, love, compassion, love of nation, love of daily rituals and in many cases a real affinity for creativity in
the arts be it music, dance, architecture or those kinds of things. My insights are from being the beneficiary of having traveled the world and to
see the world through, as much as I can, the lens of those people whose culture I am surrounded by and what it means to let go and just be
accessible and vulnerable to some of those traditions and daily activities that may seem modest by some standards here in the U.S. But to see
a group of women gathering around the well singing songs while they wash clothes or gather wood or make pottery, to see that is in and of
itself is such a beautiful, spiritual representation of that particular community and to understand how not to have that daily ritual would be a
loss to that community. I am able to get out of my own suit and tie, my comfort zone if you will, to get to the right place and say, ‘How much of
this can I embrace that gives me the closest sense of identity for what their tradition means?’ It doesn’t mean that I have to agree with it. It
doesn’t mean that I have to slaughter a calf and drink the blood. But I can certainly understand the beauty of that particular tradition and what it
represents and how grand it is to be able to witness and experience and celebrate the people to see episodes like that in tribal living as
something really wonderful.”
Overby promises some change to the traditional format of the tribute, which will be held Monday January 15, 12 noon, at the State Capitol,
which he doesn’t want to give away. A sample is that the traditional reading of King’s I Have a Dream speech will be performed with a spoken
word adaptation. And the keynote speaker is Muhibb Dyer, author of From Kings to Thugs to Presidents.
“Muhibb Dyer is an activist from Milwaukee and has a compelling story about growing up in Milwaukee and telling the story of a Black man
who didn’t see the world as others saw it, who didn’t see the opportunities, who only saw those opportunities being offered to a certain part of
the African American community that he assessed did not include him and many other young brothers,” Overby said. “So he will talk about that
with a dramatic rendering of his presentation.”
Of course, there will be some familiar features with the presenting of the King Heritage Award and music by the Milwaukee Children’s Choir,
Chicago’s Victory Travelers Gospel Quartet, a few soloists and most likely an opening musical number by Overby himself.
The Wisconsin King Holiday Tribute is always meaningful and yet entertaining. While it begins at noon, one is advised to come early to get one
of the limited seats available. The King Holiday Tribute is a splendid way to begin a wonderful holiday.