Reflection for MLK Day 2024 – by Jim Perry

WI Green Fire, January 15, 2024

MLK speaking at podium before a seated audience at UW-Marathon County, 1967

MLK on the stage of Marathon County Park Youth Building, 1967.

How Dr. King Inspires Our Work at Wisconsin’s Green Fire

A note from Carolyn Pralle, WGF Communications Coordinator:

As we commemorate MLK day on January 15th, 2024, Board Vice President of Wisconsin’s Green Fire (WGF), Jim Perry reflects on his connection to Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and how Dr. King’s work influences our efforts at Wisconsin’s Green Fire.

In 1967, when Jim was student body president at UW-Marathon County, he organized a visit and speech from Dr. King. During that speech in Wausau, Dr. King spoke on civil rights and racial justice in America, the War in Vietnam, and more to an audience of about 1,100 students and community members.

 

by Jim Perry, Board Vice President, Wisconsin’s Green Fire

Dr. King’s visit to Wausau and UW-Marathon County in 1967 might be considered a foreshadowing of WGF’s efforts in the 2020s. Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Justice (DEIJ) was not in the 1960s lexicon, nor likely in the minds of most Central Wisconsin residents. I was a 17-year-old college freshman, most certainly living in the comfortable silo of racial homogeneity. Dr. King’s message brought a real face to the inequality that existed, for me mostly in the newspapers and on nightly TV. That spring day began a life-long journey of personal awareness development and has shaped my world view.

 

MLK arriving on tarmac at Wausau airport, 1967

MLK (center) on the tarmac at Wausau Municipal Airport. Jim Perry is 3rd from left. The 2nd from the left was the Wausau mayor. Second from right was Dean Zehner, UW-Marathon County.

 

WGF has made it a priority to recognize the need for inclusivity, of respect for the concerns and welfare of all people, regardless of their skin color, their ethnic origin or any other of the host of factors with which we identify.  The struggles that Dr. King addressed more than half a century ago have not vanished. WGF continues to struggle in answering DEIJ with the natural resources. But I’m proud to be part of an organization willing to confront them. That’s living the words and philosophy of Dr. King, “that all life is interrelated…tied into a single garment of destiny,” and we all deserve to live with clean air, clean water, and a healthy environment.

 

MLK seated on stage for speech at UW Marathon County, 1967

MLK (left) seated for speech at UW-Marathon County. Jim Perry seated at right.

 

We all have heroes who have shaped our life philosophy. Often, they are individuals we have never met. But, I was privileged to have shared real moments with one of mine.

 

MLK speaking with Walter John Chilsen at UW-Marathon County, 1967

MLK (left) speaking to Walter John Chilsen (dark haired white man on right), who was then with WSAU TV, later a WI State Senator.

 

MLK seated at a table in a crowd, speaking at UW-Marathon County, 1967 during a press conference

Press conference following MLK’s address. Jim Perry stands near center.

 

Photos included here were provided by Jim Perry, including photos by Michael Kleinschmidt, then-photographer for the UW-Marathon County student newspaper, later published in the Wausau Daily Record-Herald.

 

Learn More about Wisconsin’s Green Fire and DEIJ:

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