Celebrating King's life
By Cheri Carlson
Flags waved and children sang Monday at the spirited sixth annual Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration in Merced.
The festivities began at 11 a.m. with nearly 400 men, women and children waving American flags and marching down Martin Luther King Jr. Way from 24th Street to the Merced County Fairgrounds.
The event was co-sponsored by the Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration Committee and the city of Merced.
Some people walked. Some rode bicycles. Mothers pushed babies in strollers. And dogs strutted alongside their owners. The Merced Police Department Honor Guard led the way along the parade route.
Ricky Musquiz, 7, and Cheyenne Mosby, 5, stood on the sidewalk watching as the marchers passed. Ricky said he liked the parade, and Cheyenne nodded agreement.
The first banner in the procession read "Martin Luther King Jr. Brotherhood - Unity."
Groups marching in the parade included Tenaya Middle School's marching band and color guard, the Movimiento Estudeanti Chicano de Aztlan club from Cruickshank Middle School, The National Council of Negro Women and members of the Baha'i Faith, who carried a banner that said, "The Earth Is But One Country And Mankind Its Citizens."
Duane Dickson and Stephanie McLeod walked behind the Baha'i banner.
Dickson said that this was his third year marching in the parade and that he especially enjoyed "the fellowship, the people, the colors, the variety."
McLeod added, "And the entertainment."
The sun shone brightly as the people from the march poured into the Commerce Building at the fairgrounds and were handed American flag pins.
The National Council of Negro Women, Merced Somoto Sister Cities, Merced Police Department and supporters of Rep. Gary Condit were among the groups that had information tables set up inside the building.
Betty Stewart, president of Sister Cities in Merced, said her group had participated in the celebration every year since its inception. She said it's important for them to be involved "because the goal of Sister Cities is brotherhood."
Stewart added, "We've noticed Martin Luther King Jr. is revered in the sister cities (located in Nicaragua). They have pictures of him in their homes."
Melaynie Smith, 10, her sister, Patrice, 9, and stepbrother, Rashawn Johnson, 8, marched in the parade and were at the celebration.
Melaynie said the celebration is held "to celebrate Martin Luther King's birthday because he helped people integrate."
Rashawn Johnson said his favorite part of the day was the marching.
Bishop Dwight Amey, chairman of the Martin Luther King Jr. Committee, began the celebration by asking the audience to repeat after him, "I am an American and this is my American family." He then asked people to introduce themselves to somebody they didn't know.
"We are all family here today," he added.
Other speakers included Condit, Merced Mayor Hub Walsh and Joe Rivero, chairman of the Merced County Board of Supervisors.
Performers included Michelle Allison, who sang a folk song dedicated to the rescue workers who lost their lives in the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks; the Golden Valley Concert Choir; Folklorico Dancers; and Jim Sutherland, who dedicated his rendition of "Proud to Be An American" to the congressman and his wife sitting in the audience.
The highlight of the day came when nearly 100 children from Merced schools, led by Cal "Skyhawk" Haynes, formed a conga line and danced onto the stage. The children twisted, strummed air guitars and sang on stage for nearly an hour.
Even the audience got involved in the performance after Skyhawk invited people to come down to the stage and wave their arms in the air.
The performance ended as music blared from the sound system and children dove for handfuls of candy Skyhawk threw from a bucket on the stage.
Ida Hanson, a member of the Martin Luther King Jr. Committee, told the audience, "When we first began six years ago, there were very few children (at the celebration). Every year, there have been more and more, and this year, there are more than ever."
Having children is important, according to Hanson, because the event is about keeping King's dream alive by passing it on.
Harmoney Lamb, 13, a pupil at Hoover Middle School, performed with Skyhawk on stage. She said the children had been practicing for five days.
Joseph Correa, 10, and Carlos Salazar, 9, from Luther Burbank Elementary School, also were part of the performance. Carlos had his entire face painted as an American flag. He said his favorite part of the day was the dancing.
The event ended with Bishop Amey telling the audience that "the essence of our celebration is unity and brotherhood." He then asked the audience to link arms and join in singing "America."
©Copyright 2002, Merced Sun-Star