LINCOLN — A white fluffy wig bobbing on his head, Ryan Jensen was physicist Albert Einstein.
Dressed in a white dress, I'Mya Jones was jazz singer Billie Holiday.
Wearing a baseball hat and jersey, Eliaz Pittman was baseball Hall of Famer Jackie Robinson.
To laughter and “awws” from the audience, each of the 13 students from Belmont Elementary School walked up to the microphone and introduced themselves as a character from President Barack Obama's children's book “Of Thee I Sing.”
“We don't want to just read a Dr. King speech,” said Peter Ferguson, an adviser to the students.
For the 19th year, students from Lincoln schools organized songs, speeches and video tributes for the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. Youth Rally and March.
The students were among many from across the Midlands who paused Monday to celebrate and remember Martin Luther King Jr.
Before a standing-room-only crowd at the State Capitol, dozens of students performed to celebrate the lasting legacy of the late civil rights leader — a man many said still has an impact on their lives.
“He reminds me that no dream is too big and that if you have the right intentions and passions you can achieve them,” said Simi Smith, a junior at Lincoln East High School.
The students didn't mind spending their day off of school singing and celebrating the life of a man who died before they were born.
“It just makes sense,” said Nate Sampson, a sophomore at Lincoln Northeast High School. “Why wouldn't you want to come out and be with the community today?”
More than 550 volunteers fanned out to volunteer sites across the Omaha metro area Monday as part of a service day in King's honor organized by the University of Nebraska at Omaha's Office of Civic and Social Responsibility.
“It exceeded all expectations,” said Julie Smith, service program coordinator with the office.
The tally included students from UNO and Metropolitan Community College as well as from area high schools and middle schools. Smith said some parents even arrived at the check-in point at Omaha North High School with younger children, who made bracelets for children in Madagascar and fleece blankets for Project Harmony. One woman arrived with 10 children, hers and others.
“It was really great to see parents bring so many kids,” she said.
One group of UNO art students spent the time scouting the city for sites for a future project. They plan to paint a mural during the university's Seven Days of Service in March.
Omaha Mayor Jean Stothert read to children at the Salem Children's Center and attended other King Day events around the city.
At Brownell-Talbot School, students heard a message of hope from Junie Collins Williams, who lost a sister in the bombing at the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Ala., in 1963.
At a convocation in King's honor, Williams told students and community members how 15 minutes before the blast she had left the area where her 14-year-old sister, Addie Mae Collins, and three other girls wound up fatally injured. Another sister, Sarah Collins Rudolph, was with the four. She survived but spent several months in a hospital.
Flying debris cost her the sight in one eye. Later, it fell to Collins to identify her sister's body when her parents and older siblings couldn't be reached.
Williams, who now lives in San Antonio, said she wants to be available to encourage others — young people, in particular.
“I know you have dreams,” she said. “Keep that ceiling high. If you ever come to a place where you've fallen on the sideline, get up.”
She said the 50th anniversary of the bombing last year helped her move forward.
“It's not about me,” she said. “It's about the people who are coming behind me.”