On a beautiful Monday morning, hundreds of people marched in downtown Fresno to mark the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. holiday and raise concerns about such things as poverty, education inequality, outsourcing jobs and bad drinking water in some parts of the Valley.
Fresno's 29th annual celebration drew a collection of police, city and school officials, and union activists and advocates who marched and sang to King's theme of "We shall overcome."
Young and old carried signs such as "Stop Illegal Wiretapping," "No Human is Illegal," and "Troops Home Now." Some of them held American flags and the Rev. Lee Pointer of Bethlehem Baptist Church led them in singing "God Bless America."
The event coincided with President Barack Obama's inauguration for his second term. To honor the milestone, Lloyd Hall, 47, of Fresno, carried a large photograph of King and the president along the parade route.
"They paved the way," he said.
The march was one of several events taking place.
HandsOn Central California organized a food drive for military families that drew more than 150 volunteers from Kaiser Permanente, the Fresno Police Officers' Association, AmeriCorps VISTA and Fresno EOC Local Conservation Corps.
About 820 families received 40,000 pounds of food and cleaning supplies, said HandsOn executive director Cathy Caples. "It was great and everything went smoothly," Caples said. "No one was turned away."
At the downtown march, organizer Gail Gaston said she was pleased with the political diversity of the crowd. "Though we have our differences, this is the one day we can all all agree on one thing -- Martin Luther King Jr. and his commitment to unity," Gaston said.
Fresno State student Jose Nava took a few international college students to the event for the first time.
"This is a new experience," said Natsumi Sugimoto, 20, of Tokyo.
Sugimoto, who has lived in Fresno only two weeks, said Japanese students study King in school, but they don't have marches in his honor. After finishing the march, Sugimoto said she was amazed at the crowd's "eagerness" and "motivation."
Mayor Ashley Swearengin and Chief Jerry Dyer were not in the march; they were in Washington, D.C., trying to get a police grant, said Deputy Police Chief Keith Foster. "They would be here, but they're trying to get money for our community," said Foster, who brought daughters Keina and Keiana to the event.
With a police motorcade leading the way, about 1,000 marchers started at St. John's Cathedral on R Street, took Tulare Street, and stopped in front of City Hall on P Street for a few speeches.
Council President Blong Xiong implored the crowd to get involved city issues: "This is your place. We need to hear your voices."
Council Member Oliver Baines set a somber tone when he said work still needed to be done to rid poverty in some areas of the city and close the achievement gap among minorities. "The tale of two cities still exists right here," Baines said. "We are being tested and the test is not over. We should not forget that."
Assembly Member Henry T. Perea said it was time for Fresno residents to fight the outsourcing of city jobs, call on Fresno County supervisors (including his father, Henry R. Perea) to embrace President Obama's health-care plan, and ensure the state provides safe drinking water to all Valley residents.
"Our fight is for justice," Perea said.
Also in attendance for the 10th year in a row was a contingent from Clovis, including Mayor Pro Tem Lynn Ashbeck, Police Chief Janet Davis and her officers, and Clovis Unified School District Superintendent Janet Young.
"The lessons of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. has no city limits," Ashbeck told the gathering. "They are the lessons of faith, peace and justice, and having a voice for the common good."
Afterward, the crowd marched to Veterans Memorial Building to take part in more events in honor of the slain civil rights leader who was assassinated in 1968. The federal holiday, always the third Monday in January, was signed into law by President Ronald Reagan in 1983 and celebrates the anniversary of King's birth on Jan. 15, 1929.
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