Despite Controversy, YES Students Focus on Martin Luther King's Message

Local conservatives have taken issue with a local student-led group that has helped get out the vote, and advocated for student and teacher rights. Amid heavy criticism, Racine Unified and United Way backed out of supporting MLK day events.

After hours of volunteering their time at local nonprofit agencies Monday morning, hundreds of students — members of Youth Empowered in the Struggle (YES) — took to the streets to march on a frigid afternoon to honor Martin Luther King Jr.

YES, a youth group overseen by Voces De La Frontera, organized the Martin Luther King Day events. The group has had its share of critics as being political, but advisors from YES say it's a nonpartisan group.

Still, over the past year, a number of conservative groups have voiced criticism over YES, especially after conservative talk show host Mark Belling put pressure on the United Way to stop funding Voces De La Frontera when it worked on get-out-the-vote projects, put together a student bill of rights that required teachers having the right to collectively bargain and registered voters in schools. 

As a result of increasing pressure, officials with the Racine United Way pulled their $950 grant that helped support the MLK Day activities. The Racine Unified School District also pulled its support for the event earlier this month and put off voting on the students bill of rights.

Right or wrong, students from YES focused on Martin Luther King's message of service, social justice and community activism. But the Racine United Way and Racine Unified decisions were still a point of focus during the event, albeit briefly.

As the students marched several blocks to the Martin Luther King statue on State Street, they shouted chants about their schools, their streets, their community and their democracy. When they reached the statue, they bowed their heads in prayer and listened to what their peers and community leaders had to say about the power of serving others.

Zantasia Johnson, a student at Case High School, talked about what Martin Luther King stood for, that his power as a leader was in unifying people around social justice issues, and encouraging them to help one another. Another student Viridiana Rocha reminded the students needed to continue fighting for their rights, and to get involved with YES.

Lawrence Kirby II, pastor at the Second Baptist Church in Kenosha and board member for the Kenosha United Way, asked the students to be visionaries.

"Walk in confidence, but be a visionary," Kirby said. "Dreamers dream dreams, but visionaries make dreams happen. We need your creativity to solve these problems."

After the march, the students had lunch, and attended breakout sessions put on by the ACLU on knowing what their rights are and how to become an organizer.

*A quote from Alexia Gates has been removed from the story. The quote was mistakenly included in the press release, according to an official from Voces De La Frontera.

Edward Willing January 22, 2013 at 12:44 AM
To say YES is non partisan is about as honest as saying AFP is. They serve their purposes of activism. Please, spare us the rationalizations, YES. RUSD was wise to back out, as they should. Voces is a terrible organization and I don't want them anywhere near my kid.
GearHead January 22, 2013 at 03:31 AM
Non-partisan? How many Republican voters did they knock and drag to this past presidential election? They are most certainly a political organization. As such, the district was quite right (albeit slow) to cut off support for them. Especially after receiving their so-called bill of rights. Ms. Gates better watch out how she is slandering Mr. Belling. Perhaps she can consult her ACLU friends for a little advice in getting along. The rest of us are weary with the Chicago way.
LMB52 January 22, 2013 at 12:39 PM
So the hate radio host and his tribe of wingnuts calls the shots for United Way and RUSD? DISGUSTING
Jeff Frievalt January 22, 2013 at 03:50 PM
Calling YES a non-partisan organization is akin to saying the unions give $$ equally to both parties. YES is fully backed by VOCES DE LA FRONTERA.
Frances Martin January 22, 2013 at 04:15 PM
The YES kids have learned a valuable lesson-- the right wing of the right wing does not want them to vote,nor to encourage their families and friends to vote,and does not want them to participate in the democracy they learn about in school. Dr. King understood this, and is a shining example of how to confront that attitude .
Brian Dey January 22, 2013 at 04:31 PM
Fran- Not on school timeor using taxpayer dollars. It has nothing to do with left or right in my mind.
Brian Dey January 22, 2013 at 04:36 PM
And not when it is clearly partisan.
Ed Holladay January 22, 2013 at 04:51 PM
I give them credit for marching in that weather.
c January 22, 2013 at 08:39 PM
You disgust me at the deepest level, frances.
Frances Martin January 23, 2013 at 01:41 AM
c--I'm not concerned because I'll bet your deepest level is pretty shallow(tho I think dr. king would tell me to smile at you and hope you'll evolve--so I am, and I do).
Ed Holladay January 23, 2013 at 04:20 AM
The United Way can not win in these highly political times. They piss someone off no matter what they do. I am glad not to be in charge of that organization.


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