Fifty years after Martin Luther King Jr. led the March on Washington to fight for civil rights and ending racial segregation, students in Bozeman are organizing a celebration of his life and messages of nonviolence and equality.

This year for the first time, local students from middle school to high school to Montana State University are cooperating on the project, said Jan Krieger, a Spanish teacher at Chief Joseph Middle School.

“To me it's really exciting to have middle school, high school and college students working together on a common goal, a community celebration,” Krieger said.

“It's important for our youth to be aware of the struggles our country has gone through to get to where we are today,” Krieger said. “Martin Luther King was foundational. … By inspiring youth to look at the past, they'll realize the fight is not over and they need to continue to fight for equality.”

Beau Bridgeman, 20, an MSU business management and marketing student from Great Falls, said the MSU Leadership Institute is sponsoring a sign-making party Saturday night.

It will be held at Wild Joe's Coffee Spot downtown from 7 to 8:30 p.m. Bozeman High students Eva Swanson, Ali Garnsey, Sarah Click and the student band Mus Q will perform live music while people make signs and posters to carry in Sunday's march.

People at Wild Joe's will also have the chance to see some “spectacular” artwork made by Bozeman High Art Club student Sarah Budeski, Krieger said.

On Sunday from 1 to 3:30 p.m., people will gather at the Emerson Center for the Arts and Culture for music, speeches and a short march. MSU President Waded Cruzado will be the featured speaker.

Last year Bozeman's King march attracted about 125 people and this year they're hoping to double the turnout, Krieger said. This year’s march will be led by the Chicks with Sticks drum group.

Bridgeman said the weekend events would highlight King's message from the 1960s and show its relevance to today's issues, like gender equality.

Bozeman High senior Bobbi Anderson, 17, will serve as an emcee with local radio celebrity Missy O'Malley.

“It's an honor to be part of it,” Anderson said. “With the lack of diversity in Bozeman, it's really important to be celebrating and acknowledging” King.

Anderson said that as a member of the high school's Project X2 club, which seeks to spread equality, empowerment and respect, King's message is important.

Seventh-graders helping to organize the weekend events are members of the CJMS Million Ways Club, which looks for ways to make the world a better place.

“I think it's really cool that from day one, he wanted things to be equal but he did it in a nonviolent way,” said Katherine Seessel. “That's a really important lesson for us.”

Students at Chief Joseph on Friday showed several signs students had made with messages like “Dream Huge” and “Faith is taking the first step even if you can't see the whole staircase.”

Art students had painted portraits of King, as well as South African anti-apartheid leader Nelson Mandela and Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani teenage girl shot by the Taliban for advocating girls' education.

“I feel like everybody should be aware of (King),” said Mia Smith, 13. “To me he's a role model for kids and for adults, whether you're 8 years old or 75.”

Gail Schontzler can be reached at gails@dailychronicle.com or 582-2633.

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