Makda Fessahaye, J.D., will be the keynote speaker for an annual prayer service honoring the late Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on Saturday, Jan. 15.


In her keynote speech, Fessahaye plans to focus on the words contained in King’s “American Dream” speech. 


“I will discuss what it means in 2022 with the backdrop of protests against racial injustice, a global pandemic and much more,” she said. “I will be speaking from a perspective of being a young black woman, child of immigrants and raised in Milwaukee, and what the American Dream has meant to me. I’ll also challenge everyone to continue to not give up and continue to make the dream possible for generations to come.”


The 31st annual prayer service will begin at 1:30 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 15, with a musical prelude, followed by a 2 p.m. prayer service at St. Francis of Assisi Parish, 1927 N. Vel R. Philips Ave. Archbishop Jerome E. Listecki will offer a blessing for the event. 


This year’s theme is “The American Dream.” Fessahaye is the city of Milwaukee’s Chief Human Resource Officer and director of the city’s civil service system, recruitment and retention, classification and compensation, compliance and employee relations matters. 


Fessahaye earned her bachelor’s degree in communication studies, a minor in political science from Northwestern and her Juris Doctorate from Marquette. She served as a member of Mayor Tom Barrett’s cabinet, advising the former mayor and fellow cabinet members on employment matters, regulatory compliance and best employment practices. She previously served in Gov. Tony Evers’ administration as the administrator for the Wisconsin Department of Corrections’ Division of Adult Institutions. She was responsible for the day-to-day operations and management of 36 prisons in the state. She previously served as legal counsel for the Wisconsin Department of Corrections, primarily practicing employment law, open government law and privacy law.


Fessahaye currently serves in several leadership positions in the Milwaukee community, including as a member of Marquette University Law School’s Diversity Recruitment Committee, a member of Dominican High School’s Alumni Board, and a member of the Urban and Latina Task Group for Girl Scouts of Wisconsin Southeast. She is also a member of the All Saints Catholic Church Gospel Choir.


King presented the American Dream speech July 4, 1965. It began with his discussion of some of the problems found in the world and the nation.


“I choose this subject because America is essentially a dream. It is a dream of a land where men of all races, of all nationalities and of all creeds can live together as brothers,” King said. “The substance of the dream is expressed in these sublime words, ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.’”


He concluded his nearly 45-minute speech with the famous paragraph, “this will be the day when all of the chosen black men and white men, Jews and gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, ‘Free at last, free at last, thank God almighty, we are free at last.’”


Following the prayer service, there will be light refreshments. The event will be livestreamed via Facebook and YouTube; COVID-19 pandemic protocols will be followed. RSVP is encouraged by not required. Visit: to register.


For questions or additional information, contact Fr. Michael Bertram, O.F.M. Cap., at or 414-374-5750, or Fessahaye Mebrahtu at or 414-526-0385.

Makda Fessahaye