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El Cerrito celebrates Martin Luther King Jr. Day with parade, gathering

El Cerrito held its 12th Martin Luther King Jr. parade Jan. 15, as children and their families, church members, elected officials, Kennedy High band members, clubs and organizations, police, firefighters and neighbors marched under sunny skies.

The parade was followed by performances and speeches at the Community Center.

Guest speaker Shareef Nasir of Contra Costa College called on those gathered to carry on the legacy of Dr. King by having "the strength to do what's right."

Nasir said we must all challenge ourselves to do what we can to fight social injustice and help others in any way we can.

"It doesn't matter who you are. It doesn't matter what color you are. It doesn't matter what color the other person is."

Nasir particularly noted the challenges young people face -- the images of sexual exploitation in rap music, drop out and pregnancy rates, people who think "it's cool to be anti-intellectual."

Nasir says he has 19 and 20 year old students who can't read.

"We have to ask: What are we not doing? It's so easy to blame TV . . . Young people, we have to accept the responsibility."

"Read every day. Write every day. Do math every day. Learn how to talk every day."

Mayor Larry Damon said King's dream must be kept alive with both special events and everyday acts such as saying hello, shaking hands and smiling -- "in every action and interaction."

County Supervisor John Gioia noted that El Cerrito's was one of many celebrations worldwide. Through the Internet he learned of events such as a poetry and essay reading in England; readings and a dessert potluck in Alaska; the establishment of a youth center in Aberdeen, South Dakota; a play at a Michigan university about a hypothetical meeting between Malcolm X and Dr. King; and, in Atlanta, an effort to feed the hungry, with Webvan donating cookie dough for volunteers to bake and bring back to serve.

Gioia ended with a quote from King's "Letter from Birmingham Jail":

"I am cognizant of the interrelatedness of all communities and states. I cannot sit idly by in Atlanta and not be concerned about what happens in Birmingham. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. Never again can we afford to live with the narrow, provincial "outside agitator" idea. Anyone who lives inside the United States can never be considered an outsider anywhere within its bounds."

Entertainers included the Fantastic Steppers form the South Berkeley Senior Center and praise dancer/signer Tonnette Polk of Castlemont High School.

Participants in the parade and celebration included St. Peter CME Church; Damon, Gina Brusatori, Janet Abelson and Kathie Perka of the City Council; the El Cerrito police and fire departments; the California Highway Patrol; students and staff from Castro and Harding elementary schools; the Contra Costa Chapter of the Japanese American Citizens League; the United Farm Workers; Davis Chapel CME Church in Richmond and Phillips Temple Church in Berkeley; the El Cerrito Democratic Club; the NAACP; the El Cerrito Human Relations Commission; the Sierra Club; and, Laurel Park neighborhood association.

St. Peter Church, the El Cerrito NAACP and Human Relations Commission co-chaired the event. Patricia Durham was parade marshal and Vanda Jones created an informational "Traveling Reality African-American Museum Display" which was posted on the walls of the Community Center.

Run dates: 2001-01-15 - 2001-02-07

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