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WUWM's Teran Powell races on race and ethnicity in southeastern Wisconsin.

The Marcus Performing Arts Center honors the Civil Rights figure with its 38th Annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Birthday Celebration

Ghaemi says both Martin Luther King Jr. and Mohandas Gandhi attempted suicide as children.
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Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Today, the nation celebrates the birthday and the life and activism of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., one of the pioneers of the Civil Rights Movement.

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Amillia Bell
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Amillia Bell, a senior at Rufus King High School, won first place in the Marcus Center's King Day speech contest.

If he were still alive, King would be 93-years-old.

The Marcus Performing Arts Center is honoring the Civil Rights figure with its 38th Annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Birthday Celebration program to highlight youth in the community.

Every year, young people interpret King's words through art, speeches, and writing contests.

WUWM's Race & Ethnicity reporter Teran Powell spoke with two first-place winners about their entries and the importance of King's principles today.

Amillia Bell is a senior at Rufus King High School in Milwaukee.

She's also a first-place speech winner of the Marcus Performing Art Center's annual "Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Birthday Celebration."

Bell has participated in the Marcus Center's speech contests since second grade. Here's part of what she wrote this year, winning her the first-place honor in the 11-12th grade level in the speech category.

"Many families face trials and tribulations as teen gun violence and fatal teen high-speed chases remain at an all-time high." 
Amillia Bell

"This year, I felt like the theme was something that was a topic for all of our speeches. Like over the whole time that I've been doing it since the 2nd grade because each year we are...using the theme that we're given to speak about something that's happening in our community," said Bell.

This year's theme is "We Must Speak," a reference from King's "A Time to Break Silence" speech.

Bell said she reviewed her past speeches to find topics still relevant today. She chose juvenile crime.

"I wanted to discuss in my speech this year how we need to speak up and speak out and get involved in the community as far as youth because tomorrow they will be our politicians, our doctors, our lawyers," said Bell. "In the future, they're going to be our leaders. So, it's important that we pour into their lives and just provide us with resources needed to achieve success because that's the only way we'll have a promising future."

Bell said her speech is for everyone, but especially adults and politicians.

"Although today as youth we are only learners and observers, tomorrow we will be your politicians, your doctors, and lawyers leading this nation. Because we are a product of our environment, it is important that you pour into the lives of the youth and provide us with the resources to achieve success. Whether it's creating opportunities on your own or getting involved with organizations whose goal is to help youth succeed. So, after witnessing the death of our future, let's change the direction. Let's change this narrative. Speak! Speak to be heard! Speak for someone to listen! Speak loud, speak proud, and speak up!" Bell said. 

Bell said her message to younger kids coming up through the Marcus Center's King Day contests is not to be afraid and to use their voice for good and not to be afraid to get out into the community and create change.

Jesabelle Cruz is another first-place winner in the Marcus Center's King Day contests but in the writing category.

Cruz is a freshman at the Milwaukee High School of the Arts. This was Cruz's first entry.

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Jesabelle Cruz
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Jesabelle Cruz won first place in the Marcus Center's King Day writing contest this year; it's her first time entering.

She said her goal was to use the "We Must Speak" theme taken from King's speech to address as many social justice issues is the U.S as she could think about.

"My goal was to bring a voice to those communities, and what I did was I talked to people who were a part of the communities that are facing those issues. I wanted to hear their insights," said Cruz. "I never saw firsthand the amount of racism and discrimination that goes on. It spreads through neighborhoods like bacteria waiting to kill. How much a white American could get away with things that a Black American couldn't."

Cruz said through her conversations with people of different identities. It became clear that everyone had one thing in common: they were all facing problems.

"Part of me was kind of enraged, infuriated. And the one way that I could speak out with my voice without having to actually speak out is my writing. And that's why I really think that these people's perspectives, that everyone else's issues that they experienced, I really think that them talking about it and being open to that is really what shaped my writing piece cause to me, it's not just the writing piece—it's a voice," said Cruz.

Cruz said the courage that King had to use his platform to amplify the voices of people who were not given the space to speak for themselves is most inspiring and relatable to her life today.

Her message to listeners is to remember that they are loved and appreciated. She added that if there's an issue that matters to you and you don't feel like you can talk to anyone, write it down.

An excerpt of Cruz's winning piece:

"Everyone is perfect the way they are, and it's way past due for everyone to realize it. The pigmentation of your skin should not be a coin to which side of America your worth goes to. And the barrier of not speaking English does not make you an immigrant to American methods. Being Muslim or non-Christian does not make your religion less important, and your beliefs does not make you inferior. Those who belong in the LGBTQ+ community do not deserve to be treated inhumane for their identity or sexuality. Society has been the bridge to normalized behavior for the longest time, so now we must break them. We will break them by speaking; We will speak."
Jesabelle Cruz

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