Dr. Jonathan Overby Planning a Wide-Ranging 2021
Virtually Honoring Dr. King
Dr. Jonathan Overby holds a poster advertising the late Shirley
Chisholm as the 1997 keynote speaker at the 1997 Wisconsin King
Holiday Tribute & Ceremony
“It’s been a real privilege and an honor to be a part of this,” Overby said. “The event has become synonymous as an annual activity that people come out to year
after year at the State Capitol. And people from Northern Wisconsin to the southern border, all parts of the state, have come annually to the Capitol to celebrate the
legacy of Dr. King. And each year, I get a call from some teacher in some far away region of the state and they ask if they are welcome to come, if there is room to
come. And I always tell them this is just fantastic, of course. Please do come. And we’ll make a place for them where we can in the Capitol. Not only is it an event
that draws folks who have a real connection with the civil rights movement in terms of experience or age or having lived through it, but there are also a lot of
people who recognize what Dr. King lived for and spoke about and ultimately died for that they connect with. And his mission of wanting to see our nation find a
better path to peace and harmony is something that has motivated me year after year.”
Overby observed that the King event is probably the most racially-diverse event in the State Capitol year after year.
“When I look back at photographs and video, I just marvel at the images that are represented by those pictures as a statement about what we can be even during
the toughest of times,” Overby emphasized. “And that on this one given day, it has always been my goal to have a set-aside of our differences in finding a common
ground that Dr. King established with regard to respect for the stranger and that our personal participation and the attendance at the event via television or radio,
that there is an opportunity to move beyond just a one-day event, but also to circle our families, colleagues, co-workers, and people at our churches, synagogues
and mosques together to find that pathway that leads to a better understanding of each other. And I think this event has achieved that. And it has placed a high mark
on the value of community. And like many of the other organizations throughout the state, this event asks people to consider how they can be a better steward over
the things that are affecting their communities where they find that injustices have occurred where they see that people are being marginalized and disenfranchised
and they have the means to help change that in a different direction, one that is positive, supported and moves us together as one, which is the theme of the 2020-
While it will be virtual, there still will be an observance at noon on January 18th.
“Wisconsin Public Radio will air a one-hour pre-recorded celebration of Dr. King’s birthday,” Overby said. “And it will feature some archival aspects such as
Michelle Alexander’s speech from the 32nd Annual Tribute in 2011. And we’ll also have some archival performances by Chicago’s GMAC Mass Choir and the
Milwaukee Latino Strings. And then Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers will present the 2021 MLK Heritage Awards and the state proclamation.”
However, given the times that we live in, a virtual pre-recorded observance is not enough, especially in the times that we live in.
“It’s important to recognize that Dr. King did not achieve what he achieved alone in terms of changing the narrative, changing the direction of our country when it
comes to addressing the other pandemic, if you will, and that is hatred,” Overby emphasized. “In my lifetime, I have never seen such open hatred and divisiveness.
This disease, along with the other current disease of COVID-19, will take us some time to overcome the pandemic. And I hesitate to say so, but I think it will take us
much longer to rid ourselves of this disease. Anyone who sees the current climate in our country as being meaningful and beneficial erodes the whole idea of
patriotism and service to others.”
“It’s a dilemma for me because from my perspective as a Black man, I never really got the brunt of those negative elements in society,” Overby said. “I’ve always
been aware that they exist. And they expose themselves in sometimes the most subtle of ways. And other times, they are more overt. Some of them are just callous.
And some of them are just mean-spirited. Quantifying which of those is at the apex of what we are experiencing in terms of our society today, what I can say to that
is we need to be real about this disease of hatred. And by being real about it, we need to struggle together to eradicate it. I don’t know if we will achieve eradication,
but I do believe that we can reduce it significantly. It is important that we are well-informed and motivated as a means of showing our dedication to making this a
country that fosters justice and freedom for everyone.”
And so what Overby and company are planning to do is hold The Forward Together Forums that will bring disparate segments of the state — geographically, racially,
politically, every way you slice it — together in a series of zoom discussions utilizing people from the board room to the streets, from the farms to the streets as idea
presenters to discuss todays issues in the spirit of Dr. King.
In the King Holiday Issue: The Forward Together Forums
Part 1 of 2
By Jonathan Gramling
The celebration of the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. holiday seems to be more important than ever
as we approach 2021. While Dr. King was a complex man with a sometimes complex
message — non-violence did not mean passivity and accepting the way things were — he is
most remembered by his I Have a Dream speech at the March on Washington in August 1963,
which expressed a vision of a multi-racial society where all people regardless of race,
religion, nationality and other human characteristics. It is the expression of Dr. King’s Beloved
For the past 40 years, Dr. Jonathan Overby has been involved in staging and producing the
State of Wisconsin King Holiday Tribute & Ceremony — the oldest in the nation — at the State
Capitol at noon on the third Monday in January. And Overby and his fellow volunteers work
hard to resemble Dr. King’s Beloved Community each year.