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Annual event at fairgrounds celebrates Dr. King's legacy

Kamira Laws, a member of a dance troupe from the Ebenezer Young People
Kamira Laws, a member of a dance troupe from the Ebenezer Young People's Department, performs during the 20th Annual Kitsap County Martin Luther King, Jr., Day Celebration at the fairgrounds on Monday.
— image credit: Kevan Moore/staff photo

The 20th Annual Kitsap County Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Day Celebration featured choir performances, spoken word, interpretive dance, some prayer, a keynote address by Major Jim Baker of the Salvation Army and much more.

In other words, as in years past, there was a little something for everyone to celebrate, reflect upon and look forward to as the shadow of Dr. King's legacy continues to grow. Sponsored by Ebenezer African Methodist Episcopal Church, the Kitsap County Commissioners, the City of Bremerton and Olympic College, the annual celebration is the largest in the area.

Olympic College student Kiana Perreira'Keawekane brought the house down while performing spoken word poetry and youngsters from Laura Kornelis' choir at Burley Glenwood Elementary School received a standing ovation after singing the famous spiritual "Swing Low Sweet Chariot." The Martin Luther King Community Choir and a dance trio from the Ebenezer Young People's Department also kept the event lively.

Baker, who has been a community service staple in Bremerton for years through his work with the Salvation Army, gave his keynote address while his wife, Marcia, also a longtime member of the Salvation Army, was recovering from surgery. Baker's address focused on the idea of respecting one's self in order to respect others. He touched on the words of the Bible, Dr. King, Mohandas Gandhi, Nelson Mandela and others to drive that point home.

Baker kicked off his speech on a lighthearted note, noting that Michael Crabtree of the San Francisco 49ers had failed to pay a proper amount of respect to cornerback Richard Sherman and the rest of the Seahawks ahead of Sunday's NFC Championship game.

From there on, though, Baker was all business.

"Slave," he said. "Property. Bought and sold. No justice. Discrimination. Beatings. Lynchings. Starvation. Hard labor. Second class. No rights. No protections. No hope. No dreams. Have I described to you the condition of the American black slave in earlier centuries? Yes, of course. Or, I could also be describing the condition of Hebrew slaves in ancient Egypt. Or prisoners of war in ancient Greece or China. And the 20 to 30 million slaves in all the world today."

Baker went on to mention indentured servitude and illegal immigrants who can't appeal to authorities for help.

"Or, I could talk about children being kidnapped of the streets of Bangok, Paris, Oklahoma City or … Poulsbo, and forced into the sex trade," he said, noting that human trafficking, prostitution and other forms of bullying that often lead to hopelessness.

But, Baker also talked about leaders who took that hopelessness head-on and inspired generations.

"Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. engaged in the struggle for years. So did Nelson Mandela. So did Ghandi. So have many, many others on behalf of the oppressed and disenfranchised everywhere, in every century. Simón Bolívar, Joan of Arc, Gideon. They did it many ways, used many different methods of attack. Some methods were violent, some were peaceful. Some were confrontational, some were surreptitious. All were for their people. They brought hope and freedom."

Baker said the reason we lavish such high praise on the likes of Dr. King, Ghandi, Mandela and others is, "because their goal was not to conquer their masters, but rather to gain equality and respect for all."

"The first thing that each of them did was respect themselves," Baker added. "They were not just black or Indian or any other race or ethnic group. They were men. They were humans, not subhumans or second-class humans. They knew everyone else was equal to them and they were equal to them.

They respected themselves and expected to be respected. Then they set out to demand that the people they identified with should be given the same respect. Not more respect or less respect, just respect, equality."

Baker said that the type of respect that Dr. King insisted on was mutual respect.

"White for black and black for white," he said. "Poor for rich and rich for poor. Educated for uneducated and uneducated for educated. That level of respect requires to do unto others as you would have them do unto you."

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