Inglewood pays tribute to legacy of Martin Luther King Jr.

imageBelieve. Achieve. Succeed.

This uplifting triad echoed through Inglewood, Calif., Saturday morning as hundreds of community members filled the Tabernacle of Faithful Central Bible Church to honor the accomplishments of Martin Luther King Jr.

The words composed the 28th Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day Celebration theme, which also prompted the city’s annual student speech and art competitions.

“This was about the children and their understanding of assimilation and of Dr. King’s legacy,” said Inglewood Mayor Daniel K. Tabor, who moved to the city in 1966 as a sixth-grade student at Clyde Woodworth Elementary School. “The confidence they have is beyond awe-inspiring. They’re getting it from their instructors at school and from their parents who tell them that they can achieve what they set out to do.”

Monroe Middle School student John Cruz, one of the four speech competition winners who spoke in front of the church audience, displayed his self-assurance both on and off the stage.

“It felt good telling everyone what I feel about the dream of Martin Luther King [Jr.] because I hope one day I can turn it into a reality,” Cruz said. “Someday, I hope there will be a bigger crowd to hear. Really big.”

Student competition winners presented their speeches and art during the two-hour ceremony, which included performances by spoken-word artist Azure Antoinette, the Inglewood-based Parent Elementary School Choir and the Spirit of David Choir, which was a finalist in a national choir competition hosted by Verizon Communications, Inc., at Staples Center in October. KTLA Morning Show host Michaela Pereira served as mistress of ceremonies and actor Gbenga Akinnagbe served as grand marshal.

The annual celebration strikes a personal chord with Inglewood, as the city was one of the first in the nation to declare Martin Luther King Jr. Day a legal holiday, according to the City of Inglewood website. But due to recent budget cuts, an annual march to Hollywood Park following the church ceremony was removed from the agenda. The three-mile crossing symbolized civil rights marches from the 1960s.

“We always want more people here, and we need more advertising,” said Inglewood Unified School District Superintendent Gary McHenry, who noted that last year’s march brought more than 1,000 students from across the 19 public schools in the district. “This is an important event that celebrates how Martin Luther King [Jr.] awoke the consciousness of a nation.”

Families with young children made up most of the audience at the youth-centered celebration, but some attendees stood solo as longtime veterans of Martin Luther King Jr. events.

“There are some people who, no matter what type of event that honors Dr. King, they’ll be there,” noted Sabrina Barnes, director of Inglewood’s Parks, Recreation and Community Services.

William Brown, retired U.S. Postal Service employee and Inglewood resident, expressed unease at this year’s smaller turnout.

“Normally, it’s packed,” Brown said. “What really bothers me is that Dr. King and his followers paved the way for people to be where they are today. It seems to me that some people have forgotten that.”

After the event, organizers encouraged attendees to continue the celebration beyond the morning’s ceremonies, such as at the Martin Luther King Jr. Peace & Unity Parade Celebration in Long Beach, Calif., at which a festival was held until 5 p.m.

“We all have a responsibility to make sure that the young individuals see Dr. King’s vision,” Barnes added. “We, not just African-Americans, but we as a community and nation. He was speaking for everyone who suffered an injustice.”

Photos courtesy of Creative Commons