Long Beach paid tribute on Monday to the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., as hundreds of residents marched through city streets to honor the slain civil rights leader, five days after what would have been his 91st birthday.
The theme of this year’s Martin Luther King Day was “the fierce urgency of now,” a phrase King used in his famous “I Have a Dream” speech at the March on Washington in August 1963. James Hodge, board chairman of the MLK Center in Long Beach, said the phrase was chosen because today’s turbulent political climate calls for people to act and come together as a community.
Dr. Jonathan Shaw, of Crown Ministries International in Brooklyn, was the day’s keynote speaker. “My dream is a continuation — a Part Two — it is a sequel to Martin Luther King’s dream,” Shaw said, tears running down his face as he made his way along East Pine Street. “To further it, we can begin to see African-Americans achieve great achievements, not only as president but as business owners, Wall Street executives, to operate in economic prowess, and to operate and function in educational arenas where we have real say-so, where we have real effectiveness and a real impact.”
The march stepped off at 11:30 a.m. from West Park Avenue and Laurelton Boulevard and closely followed the path that Dr. King took when he visited Long Beach in 1968, three weeks before he was assassinated as he stood on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tenn.
Among the marchers were members of the Christian Light Missionary Baptist Church, the Long Beach Latino Civic Association, Long Beach students, local officials, a group from the U.S. Marine Corps and city firefighters.
Sylvester Lake, a lifelong Long Beach resident, was among the people who marched on a bright but cold afternoon. Lake reflected on the significance of the event. “I have family that have been through the civil rights movement for years, and we’re just continuing to keep the progress moving forward and we want to send it down to the younger generation,” Lake said.
A commemorative program held after the march featured a martial arts display and gospel singer Kiy Lewis. Guest speakers included U.S. Rep Kathleen Rice, State. Sen Todd Kaminsky and Rabbi Eli Goodman, of Chabad of the Beaches.
In her speech, Rice asked the audience to keep U.S. Rep John Lewis, of Georgia, in their prayers. Lewis, who was recently diagnosed with Stage 4 pancreatic cancer, is a civil rights leader who marched along with King at the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Ala. — a march that turned violent and became known as “Bloody Sunday.”
Rice read a speech that Dr. King gave at New York University in 1961. “Human progress is neither automatic nor inevitable. Every step toward the goal of justice requires sacrifice, suffering, and struggle; the tireless exertions and passionate concern of dedicated individuals,” it read. “Never have those words been more true than today. We will get to a more united country, for we will put love before hate.”
The program featured a variety of performances, but a new addition was a group of youth vendors who created and sold a variety of products at the program.
Belinda Watkins, a co-chair of the MLK March committee, organized the event to promote young entrepreneurs. On sale were items from the Amia Chantel Collection, Janiah’s Scents and Candles, and Rocky’s Kicking Treats.
Sarah Dingle, a member of the MLK Center’s board of directors, said that every year the event grows larger, and she praised the youth vendors for their work. Dingle also had a message for the young people during the special day.
“Never give up,” Dingle said. “We are our ancestors’ wildest dreams. We can’t give up on their dreams or ours, and if we all come together and work together, there is nothing we can’t accomplish.