First place winner (grades 9-10) Leila Muhammad of Ronald Reagan IB High School said, “I must speak so that my ancestors’ sacrifices and struggles will not be in vain.”

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s calls for civil rights and his methods of peaceful protest resonate with Muslims, which is why Milwaukee’s Muslims support the celebration of his birthday, Milwaukee’s Muslim community leaders say.

Milwaukee Muslims played key roles in the city’s 38th Annual Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Birthday Celebration, which was held Monday, including chairing the steering committee, helping sponsor the event and encouraging youth to participate in the annual speech, art and writing contests.

More than 1,800 students from schools across Milwaukee participated in the competitions, creating speeches essays and art on the theme “We Must Speak.” Top winners from each age group shared their work at yesterday’s celebration.

Students offered their interpretations of the following line from one of Dr. King’s speeches: “Some of us who have begun to break the silence of the night have found that the calling to speak is often a vocation of agony but we must speak. We must speak with all the humility that is appropriate but we must speak.”

Congresswoman Gwen Moore (D-Wis.), Milwaukee County Executive David Crowley, Milwaukee Acting Mayor Cavalier Johnson and MPS Superintendent Keith Posley spoke about the importance of honoring Dr. King’s legacy and continuing the fight for equal rights. They also praised student participants for speaking up and encouraged them to continue.

Congresswoman Gwen Moore (D-Wis.)

Milwaukee County Executive David Crowley

Milwaukee Mayor Cavalier Johnson 

Milwaukee Public Schools Superintendent Keith Posley 

Hosted by the Marcus Performing Arts Center, the event was held virtually for the second year and is available online.

Islamic Society of Milwaukee contributes financial support

The Islamic Society of Milwaukee, the largest Islamic organization in Wisconsin, is one of the major donors to Milwaukee’s Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Birthday Celebration.

“We’ve been a sponsor for at least 10 years,” ISM Shura President Salah Sarsour said today in an interview. “We really appreciate Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and the work he did for civil rights. It has benefitted everyone—Muslims, Jews, Blacks, every marginalized group. We all benefit from his great work.

“We strongly believe we need to continue to support his legacy,” Sarsour continued. “Even today voting rights are being challenged by rules that will make it harder for different groups to vote. And it looks like the bill to protect voting rights is not going to pass.

Sarsour pledges the ISM “will continue to support” Milwaukee’s MLK Day celebration. “We really believe we must find bridges to work with others in the larger community for the benefit of our society and especially for the coming generations.”

Bader Philanthropies, Inc., is the primary sponsor. In addition to ISM, other sponsors include Milwaukee County Transit, Milwaukee Public Schools, Anthem, Educator’s Credit Union, Landmark Credit Union, Milwaukee Public Schools Foundation and HomeLight. 

The art contest is sponsored by Marcus Performing Arts Center, the speech contest by We Energies and the essay writing contest by Mteaching All Children.

In-kind donations were contributed by First Stage, Milwaukee Brewers, The Zoological Society of Milwaukee, United Heathcare and the Milwaukee Art Museum.

Milwaukee Muslim Women’s Coalition president chairs steering committee

Milwaukee Muslim Women’s Coalition President Janan Najeeb has served as chair (or co-chair) of the Annual Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Birthday Celebration for more than 15 years.

Milwaukee Muslim Women’s Coalition founder and president Janan Najeeb serves as chair of the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration Steering Committee, which is responsible for organizing the event. 

She has served as chair, or sometimes co-chair, for more than 15 years and has been on the steering committee for 20 years. She is also a board member of the Marcus Performing Arts Center.

“Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., embodied a universal message that every human has dignity, that meant speaking out and protesting for civil rights, justice and anti-racism,” Najeeb said. “This is incredibly important to the Muslim community because equality and justice are central to our faith. 

“Dr. King’s message remains important because minority communities in America continue to experience racism and marginalization.  His peaceful and continued struggle resonates with anyone that understands the basic tenants of Islam.”

Salam School senior leads Pledge of Allegiance

Ilhan Mohamed of Franklin, a Salam School senior, led the Pledge of Allegiance at Milwaukee’s Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.,  Birthday Celebration. 

In her turquoise hijab, Salam School senior Ilhan Mohamed of Franklin looked straight into the camera and led the Pledge of Allegiance.

“Despite being viewed differently as a black Muslim woman in the United States, with every form of stereotype being shoved in my face, stating the Pledge reminds me that I am still American,” Mohamed told the Wisconsin Muslim Journal. “I am as American as any other American in this country, and being perceived in a negative manner will not change this part of my identity. 

“Dr. King not only fought for our rights as Americans, but also as human beings, and reciting the Pledge of Allegiance reminds me of the ‘liberty and justice’ he desired for us to receive,” she said.

Interfaith celebration of Dr. King’s life

Najeeb will represent the Muslim community at 7 p.m. tonight in another celebration of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s life. An interfaith devotional will feature community leaders from multiple faiths who will reflect on Dr. King’s life and the message of change he brought to this country.

All are invited to join in the Zoom conversation