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Kitsapers recall Dr. King’s legacy

His “I have a dream” speech was the most dynamic any person has ever given, according to Mike Short, Bremerton City Council member.

“Everyone should read it to understand the true meaning of freedom,” said Kitsap County Sheriff Steve Boyer.

“He was sincere about what he was saying,” said Marie Grier, who saw Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. speak at a California vigil in the 1950s.

Short, Boyer and Grier joined 200 others on the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday Monday Jan. 19 to celebrate his legacy.

The Presidents Hall at the Kitsap County Fairgrounds was packed full of community leaders, from Bremerton’s first black city council person Dianne Robinson — elected in December — to Kitsap County Commissioner Patty Lent to South Kitsap Schools Superintendent Beverly Cheney.

Numerous speakers said the assassinated civil rights leader’s life reminds us there is still work to be done to eradicate racism and segregation in the country.

Born Jan. 15 1929 and killed in 1968, King won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964 for his work to liberate people of color from inequality and segregation.

However, a new study by the Harvard Civil Rights Project published on Nov. 18, 2004 said over the past 15 years, school segregation between white students and students of color is increasing steadily to a state last seen in 1969.

However, Washington and Kentucky are the two states exhibiting the most integration for black students, the study reported.

Speakers at the local celebration spoke about how a person can live on strong values and improve the world around them through community service.

Elected officials sat a few rows away from the sharply dressed Kitsap County Community Youth Choir, who sang six hand-clapping numbers at the three-hour event.

A frequent reference of the twelve speakers of the day, the choir, ranging from elementary to high school students, were called to carry out King’s message — to take the torch from older people in the room.

Rear Adm. Mel G. Williams, commander of Group Nine at Subase Bangor, was the sixth speaker at the 10th annual celebration.

He recalled the time he ran from the television to grab his parents in the next room after a TV news flash declared Dr. King Jr. was assassinated April 4,1968.

“Although I was very young I knew something significant had occurred,” he said.

Williams said he learned from the African-American leader that rabid determination can accomplish anything. He praised King’s progress towards civil rights equality regardless of race, sex or economic classification.

“Had he not done that I don’t think I would be on this stage today wearing this uniform.”

Williams said that “basic human kindness is the type of service Dr. King would like us to pursue in the year 2004. Anyone can serve,” he said. “You don’t have to know Einstein’s theory of relativity, you just have to have a heart full of love ...”

Diane Robinson said that being elected as a city council person is one step for her towards making King’s words of service a reality.

“I have a blighted area in the Bremerton community,” said Robinson, referring to the Anderson Cove neighborhood that comprises a large slice of her District Six.

Anderson Cove contains many low-income families and some houses are heavily run down, with unmown grass and rodent infestations. Robinson said residents there face poverty, and some lack health care.

“I would like to see us take a look at that area,” she said.

She said African-American children face three major challenges these days, including: educational challenges under President George Bush’s No Child Left Behind Act education reform package of 2001; economic injustice – ability to find management jobs in today’s economy; inequality in the juvenile justice system

Patty Lent said she would like to see more African-Americans in leadership positions.

Rev. Sam Rachal of Mt. Zion Missionary Baptist Church said the challenge for every American is how to say thank you to Dr. King.

“I think we need to turn off all the distractions, gather our families at the dinner table and talk to them about the values of respect and self-respect,” he said.

The keynote speaker at the event was Rev. Mark Whitlock, a frequent guest on national television news talk programs, as well as the pastor of Christ Star Redeemer in Irvine, Calif.

In a flurry of words, shouts, and fist pumps, Whitlock gave a passionate speech about how King led Americans to the “promised land,” but it is our responsibility to do the rest of his job.

“We need to wake up as men,” he said, referring to the fact that there is still not a president of color or female sex.

He said that corporate leaders are still 80 percent white males, as well as city government leaders.

He scorned the U.S. federal government for spending $87 billion to create harmony in the Middle East, but spending nearly nothing to stabilize America’s inner cities.

“If we are going to get along together we must begin to seek each other out,” he said.

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