MADISON (WKOW) -- While Martin Luther King, Jr. is often celebrated for his advocacy of nonviolent protest and calls for love and unity, King also marched and wrote in the name of equal access to the ballot.
It's a right that, both then and today, racial justice advocates say can help deliver the economic and political power denied to African-Americans throughout the country's history.
That's why members of the Black Men Coalition of Dane County considered their efforts to encourage voting among their proudest efforts of 2020 during an MLK Day celebration event Monday at the Boys & Girls Club of Dane County.
"I start noticing the youth trying to find a way to help us," said Anthony Harper. "It goes back to voting. Trying to find a way to make a difference."
Harper, along with other members of the coalition, helped hand out items in the drive-thru line Monday. The event included the distribution of 2,500 hot meals prepared by Chef Dave Heide as well as essential groceries, coats, hats, and gloves.
"[MLK Day] means making a difference. It means making a change," Harper said. "When I was a kid and I first heard about Martin Luther King, I automatically knew I had to make a difference."
Harper said one of the most powerful memories he recalls from the past year was the series of voter registration efforts in Madison, particularly those in the summer that came amid protests against police brutality.
"That was my goal, to get young individuals, first-time voters, our younger individuals that their voices are heard," said Martin Lackey, also a member of the group.
Lackey said those efforts meant a lot to him because it's the most he can do for democracy. Lackey cannot vote as a result of his conviction for a 2007 stabbing.
"Just because you don't have the power to vote doesn't mean you don't have power to help the vote," Lackey said.
Erica Odeneal said the racial justice efforts of 2020 spurred her to cast a ballot for the first time. Odeneal is the Community Resource Liason for the Boys & Girls Club of Dane County.
"I was a one that it was my first time going out voting because of everything that's going on," she said. "So I am just grateful to be a part of this and to be here celebrating [King] and his legacy."
Even after a year unlike any other, Harper said he hoped the feeling he had on Monday would remain the same for every future MLK Day celebration.
"I feel unity, love, respect," Harper said. "I also feel like I'm still learning and growing, even at my age."