Valley Events Pay Tribute to King

Friday, February 10, 2006

Here in the Valley, many people gathered to remember Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Hundreds of residents marched through Downtown Fresno Monday in memory of Dr. King.

Monday's theme focused on education and members of the African American community reminded people that there is still more work to be done.

It was a scene that has been played out in Fresno and other communities for more than two decades — people of all races, from all walks of life wanting to honor the man who gave his life fighting for equality for all people.

"If he was around today, I would say thank you for what you did for our country," said Fresno resident Irma Mitchell.

Mitchell grew up in Mississippi and says she met the Rev. King and also worked to end segregation. She says seeing people from all walks of life and ethnicity come together has always been a dream of hers. "In the south, everything was segregated for me," she said. "I had to go to all-black schools, restaurants, even the hospital was in the basement."

Mitchell's friends agreed that King would be proud of how far this country has come, but there was also caution.

"But I think he would challenge us even to a greater degree that we still haven't arrived, we still haven't attained and there is still a lot of work to be done," said Cynthia Hebron.

One of the organizers of the event pointed out where the work must be done, saying too many African American students are dropping out of school.

"We are talking about 28 to 30 percent of our graduating class able to get a diploma. That is ridiculous; something has to be done about that," said Bishop John Sims of the Mt. Carmel Baptist Church.

As of October, the number of African American students at Fresno Unified in line to graduate was much lower than all of the other ethnic groups. Speaker after speaker encouraged the community to get involved to help these students succeed.

More than a thousand people in the North Valley also helped celebrate Dr. King's accomplishments.

"He gave his life so we can have a better life, so what we do today is just a small reminder of what he gave for all of us," said Michelle Allison of the NAACP.

The celebration kicked off with a march from the Amtrak station to the Merced County Fairgrounds. This is the tenth year Merced has held an event to honor the late civil rights leader.

Sunday night, dozens came together for the annual Drum Major for Justice Award banquet. The award honors those who carry on the legacy of Dr. King.

This year, the honoree and keynote speaker was former Senator William Gray, III.

"He will probably go down as the spiritual genius of American history, not just of the 20th century, because he did something great; He changed America," said Gray.

Gray also spoke about his personal experience of witnessing Dr. King's historic "I Have a Dream" speech. ABC 30 is a sponsor of the Drum Major for Justice Awards Banquet.

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