Kitsap gets ‘in step with the drummer’

"Hands clapping and feet tapping, something extraordinary was going on Monday in the Pavilion.The Tacoma-based Martin Luther King Jr. Community Choir brought the house down with an extended version of “Just As Soon.” Nearly every person in the hall jumped out of their seats to dance and sing along.Included in the chorus were all three county commissioners and the mayor of Bremerton, who sang along with the choir and crowd through the black national anthem, “Lift Every Voice and Sing.”People from around the county, singing commissioners included, convened at the Fairgrounds to honor the memory and goals of civil rights activist Martin Luther King Jr. The theme of the sixth annual celebration was “In step with the drummer.”King was born in 1929 and shot in 1968, and in the time 1between organized a movement to combat institutionalized racism and socio-economic oppression.All of the speakers touched on persistent racial tension and racism throughout the United States and in Kitsap County. In their own way, each asked the 75 people who attended the celebration to combat racism in their daily experiences.But some, like keynote speaker Rev. Dr. Cleveland Williams, said the problems of racism do not lie in the gathering of primarily African Americans honoring King. At one point during his presentation, all eyes were on Port Orchard.“Some cities and states have gone forward with Martin Luther King Jr. celebrations while others are doing a to the rear march,” Williams said. Port Orchard only recently started honoring the civil rights activist.“I have yet to see a representative from Port Orchard here at this celebration,” Williams said. Though on the program as a dignitary, Port Orchard Mayor Leslie Weatherill did not attend the event. “If there is anyone from Port Orchard here, please stand up,” Williams implored.Two African American men in the back of the room stood up to a room of applause.Beyond the regional digs, the former pastor for Bremerton’s Ebenezer A.M.E. Church asked the crowd to pressure businesses and governments that fail to honor racial equality.Businesses with more than 100 employees where “you can count the minorities on one hand” are out of step with King’s vision, he said.Bremerton Mayor Lynn Horton compared Sunday’s windstorms to institutionalized racism. “We had lots of limbs and branches flying around. But out of the windstorm of last night, this morning is absolutely glorious,” she said.Like Kitsap’s weather, Horton said people need to struggle in order to appreciate the outcome.“I ask you to do this: to prevail through the storm so we can create an even better tomorrow,” Horton said.But the storm can be elusive, explained Gwendolyn Shepherd, president of the Bremerton chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. “It is harder today to identify the opponents. There are no German shepherd attack dogs chewing at our legs.”The challenge Shepherd posed to the crowd was to consider King’s vision of the future, where people are judged by the quality of their character and not the color of their skin. “Let us not brush the words of Martin Luther King Jr. off ... and bring them out like fancy china, only used on Thanksgiving and Christmas,” Shepherd said, “and not pay attention to the movement for the rest of the year.“Racism is absolutely imbedded in our society,” she said.County Commissioner Chris Endresen recounted the steps taken to establish the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday in the first place. Members of Congress pushed for the holiday even though some, like North Carolina Sen. Jesse Helms, resisted. Helms maintained King was a communist.The president who finally signed the holiday into being was “lukewarm” on the idea, Endresen said. Ronald Reagan signed the proclamation to recognize King with a day in 1983.Washington state followed suit in 1986.“Millions of people worked for this day for over two decades,” Endresen said. “This isn’t just a day off.”"

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