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Community observes Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service, Learning, and Celebration 

Viterbo University
Award Winners, Presenters, and Organizers post-ceremony

On Jan. 15, 2024, events took place across campus to honor Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, and the 7:00 p.m. celebration was open to all Viterbo and La Crosse community members. The campus-wide celebration was held at the Fine Arts Center, and the keynote lecture was part of the Reinhart Institute for Ethics in Leadership’s lecture series. The day’s events served to educate and inspire people in the community while supporting the realization of Dr. King’s vision. 


Events started at 8:00 a.m. in the FSPA Lobby with breakfast, a morning kickoff, and a prayer. From 8:30 to noon, students were dispersed throughout the community on service projects, much like a Service Saturday project. From 11:30 a.m. to1:30 p.m., students returned to the lobby for lunch and reflection on their service. At 1:30, 2:30, and 3:30 p.m. there were seminar-like presentations dedicated to education.  


The afternoon speakers discussed the values of the diverse experiences of local minority groups. Dr. Ariel Beaujot presented at 1:30 p.m., and she educated the audience about the experiences of marginalized groups throughout La Crosse’s history recorded as part of UW-L’s “Hear Here” project. Tracy Littlejohn presented at 2:30 p.m. She spoke about the Indian removals from the west and the return of the Ho-Chuck people to La Crosse.  At 3:30 p.m. was a panel of Hmong women who shared their thoughts about life, family, and community, and they were the last presentation before the night’s celebration. 


The main community celebration started at 7:00 p.m. and consisted of several elements, including music, awards, and a keynote speaker. The doors opened at 6:30 p.m., and the event was open to the public. The ceremony started with music from The Mayfield Experience and was followed by the presenting of the Lynda Blackmon Lowery High School Leadership Award to a local student, E’mya Martin. Martin is a sophomore at Onalaska High School, and she is the new drum major for their band. 


Following Martin’s speech, the Martin Luther King, Jr. Leadership Award was awarded to Will Van Roosenbeek for his leadership in the LGBTQ+ community. Roosenbeek has been an educator and advocate for LGBTQ+ rights, and he started Trans Forum, a support group for adults who identify as transgender and nonbinary. Roosenbeek gave an authentic speech, thanking numerous people for their support on his journey. The Viterbo Concert Choir provided an interlude to the ceremonies, and alongside the Mayfield Experience, they sang Shout Glory by Byron J. Smith. 


Rev. Dr. Alexander Gee was the keynote speaker for the rest of the celebration, and he has worked to promote black excellence throughout his career. He has started several successful small businesses, written multiple books, and in 1994, he received the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Humanitarian Award from the city of Madison. His initiatives employ 40 staff members, and he is currently the CEO of The Center for Black Excellence and Culture. After Dr. Gee’s presentation, the choir, planning committee, and the award recipients returned to the stage to sing the Black National Anthem, Lift Every Voice and Sing. 


Carolyn Colleen is a program coordinator for the MLK Day Celebration, and she is passionately involved in the development of women while focusing on how she can positively impact the world. Her numerous foundations have given her a platform to speak about these issues, and in her book, F.I.E.R.C.E., she shares her personal story of individual development. She echoes similarly empowering ideas when describing the necessity of the MLK event, saying, “Having a Martin Luther King Jr. event is vital. We need to be able to honor our history, remember history, and know how to move forward.” 


Celebratory events for figures like Martin Luther King, Jr. can teach more about culture than any seminar, and they provide an inexorable feeling of pride and motivation for attendees. As Colleen says, “It’s not necessarily about learning something new, it’s about remembering something true.” More information about the ceremony and the day’s services can be found here or by scanning the QR code. 



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About the Contributor
Noah Nelson
Noah Nelson, Editor
I’m the Editor for the Lumen. My major is Sports Management and Leadership with an English Writing minor, and I also compete for the Men’s Golf team.
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