The rain cleared up just in time Monday for hundreds to march through downtown Fresno to celebrate the city’s 32nd annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day event.
Participants sang hymns while holding signs that read “Black and brown lives matter” and “What would MLK do?”
DeAndre Jean-Pierre, a 22-year-old student at Fresno State, said he is thankful to have grown up in diverse Fresno, but that there still is progress to be made when it comes to King’s goals for racial equality.
“Yes, there is more equality now, more chances given to us. But overall, there’s systemic racism no matter how much we march,” he said. “I like how in Fresno we can celebrate everyone’s cultures, but (racism) is still there because it’s everywhere.”
Fresno County Supervisor Henry Perea spoke to the group of marchers outside City Hall about inequalities that still exist in Fresno neighborhoods.
“When I look at this city … I think one of the biggest disservices we did to ourselves and the community was about 15 years ago when we coined ‘A tale of two cities’ in Fresno,” he said. “I think on one hand it may have sent the message that there are things we need to work on, but we really did create two cities, and that was a mistake. But we can change those kinds of things and we will be one city – and it begins here today.”
Dr. King’s message against hate, violence and intolerance should not be only celebrated on this day, it should be celebrated throughout the year.
Sudarshan Kapoor, MLK event founder
In an emotional speech Monday, State Center Community College District Trustee Eric Payne said that many groups of people across the country still need King’s kind of activism.
“As we march, I challenge you to thirst – thirst for women to earn equal pay for equal work; for a pathway to citizenship for our immigrant brothers and sisters,” Payne said. “I thirst.”
While many places of business were closed for the federal holiday, several events were held throughout the Valley to remember King, who was born Jan. 15, 1929.
In Visalia, a march was held starting at the Boys & Girls Club of the Sequoias, along with performances by the Black Student Union of Redwood High School; in Hanford, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People led a march.
Fresno’s event included performances at the Veterans Memorial Auditorium to celebrate the community’s diversity and culture.
Sudarshan Kapoor, a Fresno State professor who helped organize the first Fresno MLK event more than 30 years ago, spoke out about recent local hate crimes against Sikhs and anti-Islam sentiments across the country, and said King’s vision was much greater than black civil rights.
“This is about xenophobia, Islamophobia. (King’s) message applies to all of us, whether you are Hindu, Christian, a Muslim, a Jew, man or woman,” Kapoor said.
“For me, if one message comes out of Dr. King’s whole work, it’s racial unity. His vision included all of us. His mission was not just alone for blacks, let me tell you, it was for all humanity. But Dr. King’s message against hate, violence and intolerance should not be only celebrated on this day, it should be celebrated throughout the year.”