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'We would have to tell Martin...'

Years after civil rights leader dies, his legacy is a troubled one

by Jason Truesdell
NW Asian Weekly
January 22, 1994

Hundreds of people gathered at Mount Zion Baptist Church in Seattle last Friday to commemorate the birthday of slain civil rights activist Martin Luther King Jr.

The program, hosted by Patti Payne of KIRO radio, began with addresses by Phyllis Byrdwell of Mount Zion Baptist Church and LeRoy Drake, executive director of Seattle Vocational Institute.

Sean Conner, a student from Blanchet High School in Seattle, performed an excerpt from King's speech, "I have a dream."

Charles A. Kane, chancellor of the Seattle Community College District, promoted the four Seattle Community colleges, pointing out that its teachers educate 72 percent of the immigrant and refugee population residing in King County, and that the colleges are the largest contributors of students to the University of Washington.

The events on Friday marked the 20th year that Seattle Community College has sponsored a celebration of King's birthday.

Mona Lake Jones -- a poet, author and former educator for the college -- gave the keynote address.

She recently published a book, entitled "The Color of Culture," and has completed two children's books, with the publishing dates yet to be announced.

Her speech, written in verse form and consisting in part of rhyming couplets, argued that King would be disappointed with what he would see today -- increasing segregation in public schools, violence and gang problems, poor health care for minorities and poor children.

"We would have to tell Martin that, right here in the Emerald City. ..our children are troubled. We would have to tell him that the children of color are still at the bottom of the learning curve. And that the infant mortality rate for black children is one of the highest in the country.

"We would have to say that teen-age pregnancies are up and test scores are down, and that doing drugs is in, and kids are dropping out, that tolerance is down and gun use is up, that dresses are out and saggy pants are in, that coolers are in and Kool-Aid is out, and that [rapper] Snoop Doggy Dog is what's happening."

Jones referred to a poem from her recently published book: "There is a question that is asked in my book 'The Color of Culture.' It says, 'Who is responsible for all that needs fixing,' and the answer is, 'They are.'

"And then the question says, 'Well, who is going to fix it' and the answer is, 'You and me."

She continued, saying that giving up on civil rights is not an option.

"We know this is all daunting, but we cannot throw up our hands and walk away. The Martin I know would smile and say to us there is work to be done and that we have the talent and resources to fix all of these social deficits.

"He would say, 'Don't just reach out and touch somebody's hand but reach out and pull somebody up.'"

The celebration included music by the Mount Zion Inspirational Chorus, and several awards were presented to Seattle Community College students and to community leaders, including two Asians.

U.S. Sen. Patty Murray, who received a "Shattering the Glass Ceiling Award" from the Seattle Community College, said her success cannot be considered an end.

"It is not enough to shatter the glass ceiling," she said.

"But for those of us who do, we [should] turn around and pick up the pieces so that others of us can follow without getting cut.

"I hope that through my achievements, others find they can believe in [themselves] and will work hard to make a difference."

King County Executive Gary Locke, who also received a "Shattering the Glass Ceiling Award," reminded the audience that the struggle was not over.

"[King] really paved the way for so many of us to enter into the halls of education and into the halls of politics," Chinese American Locke said.

"And while we can celebrate his birthday today, let us not forget that violence, intolerance is on the rise. Let us not just remember this day, let us re-commit ourselves to his struggle for peace and prosperity and justice so that many more may follow in all of our footsteps."

Japanese American math and science instructor Aki Kurose received a "Building the Best" award for her initiative and success in teaching peace studies to elementary school students.

"More and more, we are recognizing the educator's responsibility to teach children the basic life skills, such as conflict resolution, mediation, negotiation, dealing with anger, encouraging cooperation, respect for differences," Kurose said.

"At a time of increasing violence among all of our children, we need to stay committed to the teachings of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Gandhi said, 'If we are to reach real peace in this world, we shall have to begin with the children.'"

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