Martin Luther King Jr. “Day On” – 2020

Written by Lance Leonhard

On January 20, 2020, nearly 300 Marathon County Government employees came together at the University of Wisconsin Stevens Point – Wausau Campus – Center for Civic Engagement for the 3rd Annual Martin Luther King Jr. “Day On.”

What is a “Day On”?

While federal and state government offices, along with many private businesses, observe the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday by closing their doors and giving employees a day off, Marathon County’s “Day On” event seeks to honor the significance of Dr. King’s contributions in a different way . . .

A day dedicated to learning how to better serve our community and focusing on the County’s core value of Diversity.

The event demonstrates our commitment to professional development and the County Board’s understanding that for us to do our best work serving our community, we need to take time together to learn and challenge ourselves.

(If interested, I invite you to read more about the development of the MLK Jr. “Day On” event and see details from the 2018 event and the 2019 event.)

What type of training and education was offered?

The day was filled with interesting topics and engaging speakers, each of whom caused us to reflect on our work and how we can be better tomorrow than we are today.

MLK Day On agenda

We opened the event by watching a video of Senator Robert F. Kennedy’s 1968 speech in Indianapolis, where he informed the crowd gathered to meet him that Martin Luther King Jr. had been assassinated earlier that day in Memphis. Senator Kennedy’s speech is powerful, as his words are extremely moving and he delivers them with compassion and empathy. The video set the tone for the entire day, challenging each of us to approach our work with the same level of compassion, empathy, and understanding.

Pamela Black, an expert in the integration of Trauma Informed Care in education, delivered the Keynote address entitled “Equity, Inclusion, and Diversity through a Trauma Sensitive Lens.” Pam called on us to recognize that each of us approaches our work from our own perspective and that we need to appreciate that sometimes that can cause us to miss the stories of the people we are seeking to serve. Pam pointed to the words of Anais Nin to illustrate the point:

We don’t see things as they are, we see them as we are.”


Steve Bench

Steve Bench, of Generational Consulting, was back again this year to help us better understand the complex dynamics of a multi-generational workforce.

We learned more about minority and marginalized populations in our community, including the histories of the indigenous people in Central Wisconsin and the Hmong people who were displaced and resettled in here.

We also learned more about our ongoing efforts to improve our services.

Evidence-Based Decision Making Presentation
Interim Marathon County Administrator Lance Leonhard and Marathon County Justice Systems Coordinator Laura Yarie presenting at the 2020 MLK Jr. “Day On.”

Marathon County Justice Systems Coordinator Laura Yarie and I presented on the impressive work of the County’s Evidence-Based Decision-Making group. The group — made of judges, prosecutors, defense attorneys, law enforcement, corrections staff, and many others — works collaboratively to improve outcomes, enhance public safety, and save taxpayer dollars by implementing evidence-based tools.

City of Wausau Police Chief Ben Bliven and Jim Palmer, the Executive Director of the Wisconsin Professional Police Association, talked about their efforts to build public confidence in law enforcement, while Kelly Kapitz from Marathon County Special Education helped us better understand how to serve children with disabilities.

Even lunch was an opportunity to learn…

MLK Day On - lunch
Lunch spread for the attendees of the 2020 MLK “Day On.”

Chef Marilyn Brown prepared an amazing meal with food sourced from local food pantries — the Neighbors’ Place and Salvation Army — to demonstrate the importance of improving our food collection, storage, and distribution networks. We learned that an astonishing nearly one-third of all food produced annually around the world is wasted. At the same time, here in Marathon County, approximately 16% of children are designated as “food insecure,” meaning they lack consistent access to enough food for an active, healthy life. Participants learned more about our food pantry network and while lunch was provided without charge, participants were encouraged to consider a donation to our local food pantries.

NOTE: If you are a participant who didn’t have cash on hand the day of the event — or a reader of this newsletter now — and are interested in contributing directly to a local food pantry, donations may be sent to:

  • The Neighbors’ Place, 745 Scott Street, Wausau, WI 54403
  • Wausau Salvation Army, 202 Callon Street, Wausau, WI 54401

In addition to teaching us about food insecurity, lunch was also a “waste conscious event,” meaning that all leftover food was delivered to local pantries and shelters, and an estimated 90% of the waste was collected to be converted into compost.

So, what’s in store next year?

MLK Jr. “Day On” 2020 may just have wrapped up, but it’s hard not to already be excited about planning for next year…

Each year, we continue to learn so much about our community, our organization, and ourselves. We will be sending out a survey to all employees, those who were able to attend and those who weren’t, with the intent to get feedback on how we can make 2021 the best “Day On” yet.

Thank you again to all those who made the event possible, and I can’t wait to see what January 18, 2021, holds for us!

Lance Leonard - Marathon County Deputy AdministratorLance Leonhard

Marathon County Deputy Administrator / Interim Administrator

Lance Leonhard began his career in Marathon County government in the Office of Corporation Counsel and currently serves as the Marathon County Deputy Administrator. Lance’s career in public service has spanned more than a decade, having worked for the federal government as a law clerk on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit and for the state of Wisconsin as an Assistant District Attorney. Outside of work, you’re likely to find Lance spending time with his family, traveling, teeing off on a local golf course, or sitting around a campfire with friends.  Email Lance Leonhard

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