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6th annual celebration of MLK Day held in Iowa City

For the sixth year in a row, an MLK Day celebration was held at Grant Wood Elementary School. From community service projects to guest speakers, the Iowa City community came together today to honor Martin Luther King Jr.’s legacy.

Wingel Xue

The MLK event garnered many residents from the area to celebrate Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s legacy at Grant Wood Elementary on Jan. 20, 2018.

Several community organizations came together once again at Grant Wood Elementary School to put together a celebration in honor of Martin Luther King Jr. earlier today. This year, the festivities were kicked off for the first time ever with the “Color of Unity March.” In freezing weather, community members marched from Faith Academy to Grant Wood, where activities were set up.

Service stations included tie blanket weaving and making jewelry, which will be donated to the domestic violence shelter and other organizations. In addition, local organizations set up resource tables to inform people on how to engage with their community.

There’s no time like the present for people to get involved.”

“This is a volunteer day,” Eliza Willis, a volunteer from the Iowa City Human Rights Organization, said. “The sooner you get involved, [you] see that you can make a difference. If each person engaged in some kind of volunteer activity, it would be transformational. There’s no time like the present for people to get involved.”

In fact, a few students from West High used their day off to help their community. One student, Samer Suleman ‘18, came to Grant Wood for the second year in a row to help run the event.

“We came here to volunteer,” Suleman said. “Today I really want to see what people present and tell people about. There are musicians coming in to sing and people will dance. It’s unifying in a way, as a day of service.”

Another student, Caroline Young ‘19, didn’t have as much experience, but went with an open mind.

“I don’t know what the event is about really. I’m just excited to see all sorts of different things that are going on and whatever surprises that might bring,” Young said.

An audience member cheers for Salih while she is speaking to the crowd at Grant Wood Elementary on Jan. 20, 2018.

Later in the day, guest speakers read poetry and danced and a town hall was held for discussing civil rights.

“It’s an important day for me,” City Councilwoman Mazahir Salih said. “People should start knowing what their rights are.Don’t be silent. Fight for it. Continue the movement. The movement did not stop at Martin Luther King.”

Don’t be silent. Fight for it. Continue the movement. The movement did not stop at Martin Luther King.”

— Mazahir Salih

Today’s festivities were just a small part of a weekend full of events. From a family swim on Friday to a town hall aimed at encouraging student engagement, RaQuisha Harrington, the organizer of the MLK Day events, says that she gained a new perspective from the experience.

“[Students] really feel like in their schools, there’s still some segregation. Although schools say ‘We’re all just one big school. We’re all integrated,’ in classrooms, students of color are behind in literacy rates and math scores. In addition, they feel like they’re not being encouraged to participate in AP and honors courses,” Harrington said. “As far as community goes, some relayed that their interactions with law enforcement, because they’re young men of color, they get followed or get asked where they’re going.”

Harrington hopes that changes will be made in a positive direction for students of color.

“[Students of color] want more opportunities to have discussions with different people and talk about what’s going on in the community,” Harrington said. “Students can definitely speak up in their schools and encourage more opportunities like [the MLK Day activities] that happened at West High and City. We should have something like that on a monthly basis.”

Willis concurred, saying that she hoped to see more events like this throughout the year.

“Dr. King’s life was about a continuous effort and march forward. I think we all need to follow that example,” Willis said.

Overall, students felt that there was something positive to be gained for everyone.

“It’s important to meet a lot of different people from lots of different groups and get to know what they do in the community for us and join all together so that we can find common ground,” Young said.

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6th annual celebration of MLK Day held in Iowa City