Event honors Martin Luther King’s legacy

Cindy Gehm and Bruce Gray of the local acoustic group “Good People” provide music during Monday night’s observance of Martin Luther King Jr. Day in Vermillion.

(Photo by David Lias)

What is your dream?

Area artists, poets and musicians were asked to answer that question in observance of Martin Luther King Jr. Day on Monday, Jan. 21.

In a day-long observance at the Washington Street Arts Center in Vermillion, local citizens had no problem expressing themselves.

The walls of the center were covered with hand-made works of art created by local artists and schoolchildren in honor of the civil rights leader in an exhibit sponsored by the Vermillion Area Arts Council and South Dakota Peace & Justice Center "Art of Peace" exhibit.

Monday evening, the interior of the arts center overflowed with music performed by Elaine Peacock, the local acoustic group Good People, made up of musicians Cindy Gehm and Bruce Gray, and the University of South Dakota Chamber Singers.

The night concluded with some members of the audience reading aloud poetry and other works.

"I think this is an historic moment," said Norma Wilson of the Vermillion Area Arts Council shortly before she presented a poetry reading featuring works from her new book, "Under the Rainbow."

"The whole day has been historic because not only are we celebrating the birthday of the great leader, Martin Luther King, Jr., but also because today featured the second inauguration of the first African-American President Obama. It feels so wonderful," she said.

Wilson said Obama's inaugural speech focused on important issues, such as climate change.

"The environment is something that we all share, and together, we must all be concerned about it," she said. "That really hit home for me, because I care about the environment so much."

Tom Emanuel helped organize Monday's event.

"I had helped this Art for Peace event last year, and I think this is a really neat opportunity for the community to get involved and engage with Martin Luther King's dream," he said. "A lot of the art here is done by students in local elementary schools and local high schools, and, in fact, we had 100 kids come in on Friday to tour the exhibit.

"This is giving the students an opportunity to have their art displayed for the community, and also gets them to think about the kind of world they would like to live in," Emanuel said. "The first step to doing that is imagining, so I think that's very important."

The day's event reflects a population in Vermillion and several other South Dakota communities that is growing more diverse.

"As you see more people coming in contact with other groups of people, you see us opening up to the possibilities of those different cultures interacting," Emanuel said. "We have a strong Native American presence in the Vermillion community and in the state, and we have a growing presence of Latinos, Asian-Americans, African-Americans, and it's really exciting.

"We had kids from all of those different ethnic groups provide art," he said, "and folks from those groups attended the event."

It was important for Emanuel to take time on Monday to recognize the causes that were important to King and the civil rights movement he helped inspire.

"Martin Luther King Day, to me, is a time to reflect on a man who lived a deep commitment to promoting justice, peace, equality, and I think the real meaning of this day is for us to look back at his example and say, 'How can I continue his work? How can I make his dream a reality?' An event like this, I think, when we see all of these different people coming together to share their creative processes, is a step toward achieving that reality."

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