Kitsap County hosts day of unity

From left to right, Edmund and Janice Pietras, Shirley Starino and Asantewa Antobam clap to the music of Common Ancestor. - Photo by Rogerick Anas
From left to right, Edmund and Janice Pietras, Shirley Starino and Asantewa Antobam clap to the music of Common Ancestor.
— image credit: Photo by Rogerick Anas

Packed near to full, the Presidents Hall at the Kitsap County Fairgrounds fairly rocked with song and jubilation as religious and secular leaders and other community members joined together to celebrate the life of Dr. Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. on Monday, Jan. 20.

Bremerton residents Ralph and Doris Zellers, who both attended high school in the late 1960s, didn’t want to miss a chance to honor King on Monday’s national holiday, five days after his birthday.

“I can give an hour to the man who gave me so much in my life,” Ralph Zellers said.

The Zellers’ had hoped there might be more 20-somethings at the celebration — in addition to school-age kids and their parents. While they see Kitsap and the nation as a whole has become increasingly accepting of diversity since the days of King, they still want young adults to learn about what it used to be like, and how hard it was achieve today’s standard.

“This event is an affirmation for the older generations and a learning experience for the younger generation,” he said.

Bremerton Mayor Cary Bozeman delivered the keynote address, a speech that, to the delight of the Zellers, focused on children.

Bozeman called children the most under-represented minority in the country, and called for all leaders to demand more resources for children everywhere.

“Let’s focus on our children and intercept trouble before it breeds,” Bozeman said.

He asked governments to value education, daycare and health care for children more than building prisons and preparing for war.

The first-term mayor called on those attending the King celebration to help create a “social epidemic,” a phenomena that could catch on and promote positive change for children.

Bozeman challenged local governments to adopt a children’s bill of rights.

King cared deeply about the future of children, Bozeman said, noting he mentioned “God’s children” several times in perhaps his most famous “I have a dream speech.”

He challenged the leaders attending the ceremony to adopt a children’s bill of rights that ensures all children, from birth to 12 years old would be guaranteed affordable health care, daycare, nutritional sustenance and tutoring if needed in grades one through six.

“If we can send people to the moon, then why can’t we do these things,” Bozeman asked. “The rest of the time I am in office, I will be working on this ‘epidemic’. Nothing is impossible.”

Bozeman’s rousing speech was met with cheers and a round of amens from the crowd.

And although Bozeman’s message was submitted as friendly challenge, he also provided time to celebrate King in song.

“I have heard it said that this would have been Martin Luther King’s 74th birthday,” Bozeman said. “I say this is his birthday.”

Bozeman then asked everybody to stand up and sing Happy Birthday, and they did.

The 90-minute program provided additional ways to celebrate King’s life and work as the premiere civil rights leader of the 20th Century.

The Awesome Praise Community Choir belted out several toe-tapping selections such as “I need to you to survive,” and the Common Ancestors and the Ebenezer Women’s Inspiration Singers also sang several tunes in honor of King’s work.

A multitude of community leaders — both secular and religious, African American, Asian and white — joined the celebration and shared their thoughts about the celebration.

Bainbridge Island Mayor Darlene Kordonowy, County Commissioner Patty Lent and Superior Court Judge Anna Laurie, spoke before the standing-room only crowd.

Major Jim Baker of the Salvation Army delivered the invocation, saying God created diversity on this earth and called it “good.”

“The Lord wants us to find unity in that diversity,” he said.

Bishop Lawrence Robertson of the Emmanuel Apostolic Church quoted King:

“We must all learn to live together as brothers and sisters together, or we will perish together as fools.”

Following the rounds of speeches and songs, celebrants broke out and attended a Diversity Festival in another part of Presidents Hall.

The ninth annual celebration was co-hosted by the Ebenezer African Methodist Episcopal Church of Bremerton, the City of Bremerton and the Kitsap County commissioners.

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