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With the upcoming presidential inauguration Tuesday, Milwaukeeans can kick-off the historical week by checking out the city's 25th Annual Dr. Martin Luther King Day Celebration on Sunday, which will include a plethora of ethnic groups and performers from a steel drum band to Polish dancers.

The festivities will be held at the Marcus Center for the Performing Arts, 929 N. Water St. The day will begin in the Bradley Pavilion at noon.

Milwaukee, along with Atlanta, is one of the first and few cities to fully commemorate and celebrate the holiday since 1984, only one year after Ronald Reagan first signed the holiday into law in 1983.

Janan Najeeb, co-chair of the Steering Committee that plans the event and the event's Legacy Speaker from the Islamic Society, said Milwaukee doesn't necessarily have unique ties to King that have established the longstanding celebration. Simply, Milwaukee understands the significance of remembering such an honorable activist and civil rights leader.

"As a city we've felt this is an important event to continue over the years," he said.

Najeeb said that in the past five years, the Steering Committee has made the birthday celebration a more inclusive and multicultural event, incorporating a variety of student performers and ethnic groups into the festivities.

"Dr. Martin Luther King's life and legacy are celebrated by many people in Milwaukee," Najeeb said. "Every year we try to bring a variety of ethnic groups and performers that highlight the richness of our city."

A smorgasbord of entertainment and community organizations will be featured Thursday, including the Chinese Youth Orchestra, Thai American Dancers, Syrenka Polish Youth Folk Dance Ensemble and the Milwaukee Youth Folk Dance Ensemble.

CALYPSO, a Milwaukee Youth Symphony Orchestra steel drum band made up of junior high and high school students, will perform two songs. When first organized in the summer of 2007, none of the 17 students in the band had any experience playing steel drums. The group is funded by a grant from MYSO and Milwaukee Public Schools.

Tim Rush, director of CALYPSO, said he remembers last year's event as very powerful, and is pleased that students have the opportunity to see the cultural significance of MLK Day.

"It's a fantastic opportunity for us to not only perform in public, but it's also a good chance to represent ourselves as an integral part of the community," Rush said. "As far as I know, we are the first steel drum band in the Milwaukee area. I'm proud to be a part of it."

The dance group Discovering Our Destiny, made up of African-American girls from ages 10 to 14, will also perform Mandiani, an ancient dance originating from West Africa. The dancers will wear authentic West African costume when performing this dance that traditionally celebrates weddings, baby naming ceremonies and other important events in the community.

Trina Gandy, choreographer of Discovering Our Destiny, said that while this is the group's second year performing at the MLK Day celebration, it will be the first time for this particular group of girls.

"They really enjoying seeing the variety of dance groups perform at the event," Gandy said.

Students, grades K-12, will also present interpretations of Dr. King's words through speeches, artworks and writings. A panel of teachers and community figures has already selected the competition winners, but all speech finalists will present their understanding of this year's theme "Live Together in Peace." This was taken from Dr. King's acceptance speech when he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964.

Although not widely known, Congress passed the King Holiday and Service Act in 1994 to designate King's birthday as a day of community service while off from school or work. Volunteer opportunities for both individuals and groups in the area can be found through www.mlkday.gov.

The celebration is a one-day event and is free and open to the public.

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