MODESTO — Americans have a penchant for taking a meaningful day of commemoration and turning it into a three-day weekend.
What began as days to honor beloved presidents, soldiers who died in battle or those who defended the nation have been diluted by many into minivacations with shopping sprees at the retail stores and the chance to buy a car at zero down, 0.9 percent interest. But don't wait when the sale ends, there won't be another like it until the next major holiday. Or sometime in between.
Picnics and barbecues, ski trips, boating. Tourism and economic development trump remembering George Washington or Abraham Lincoln except that in Abe's case, he's now playing in a theater near you.
Which brings us to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday, really Jan. 15 but celebrated Monday because there's nothing like a good long weekend to recharge the batteries. It's a federal holiday observed by government agencies, banks and schools but by few private employers.
Of all of the commemorative holidays, though, King's birthday sticks closest to its original intent: to honor King but also to educate generations about the man, his life and to perpetually evaluate his impact on American society.
It's celebrated through various events locally, including one Monday morning at Modesto's Christian Love Baptist Church, where the Rev. James Anderson will lead the commemoration for the 27th consecutive year.
"When I first started, we had the TV trucks out front, cables coming in," Anderson said. "Now, there's so much more (satellite connections, iPods, cell phones, video and still cameras, YouTube, etc.)."
He expects the church to fill up completely.
"They'll show up in full force," Anderson said. "People from all walks of life. Politicians, mayors and council. Community leaders. We'll be well-represented by all ethnicities."
New Modesto Police Chief Galen Carroll is scheduled to attend, giving him the opportunity to meet more members of the community.
Other events are scheduled today in Sonora, Monday in Merced and Feb. 9 at Modesto Junior College. And Anderson also gave the keynote address at a Martin Luther King luncheon Friday at the King-Kennedy Memorial Center in west Modesto.
He said the elementary schools help by teaching about King.
"I went through the Modesto library to see if I could find any fresh material," Anderson said. "All the children's books were checked out. So somebody's talking about it."
Indeed, King preached nonviolent forms of protest in the movement aimed at flattening the barriers of civil rights inequality and prejudice.
What would happen, though, if Americans ever achieved the very equality of which King dreamed?
How would organizers keep King's birthday from going the way of Lincoln's (Feb. 12), now celebrated silently as part of Presidents Day and usually closer to Washington's birthday (Feb. 22)? Or Memorial Day?
"I kind of like the question," Anderson said. "I would like to see, if it should come to that, that his legacy be incorporated into American history or world history in the schools."
King celebrations will be around for a long, long time. Not only does this nation still have a long way to go on the equality front, but Anderson and others have some inroads to make.
Many young African- Americans know virtually nothing about the Emancipation Proclamation that President Lincoln signed 150 years ago, said longtime Modesto educator John Ervin. Consequently, they're also unaware of the significance of Juneteenth, which remembers the day more than two years later when slaves in Texas finally learned of their freedom. And believe it or not
"There are people in the present generation who have never heard of Dr. King even in the African-American community," Anderson said. "We need to educate them."
Which means you'll find him honoring King each year in church, and not snowboarding at Dodge Ridge.
"We've got to keep the dream alive," Anderson said.
Christian Love Baptist Church is at 202 H St., near Modesto High School. The event will begin Monday at 10:30 a.m.
Jeff Jardine's column appears Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays in Local News. He can be reached at email@example.com, @jeffjardine57 on Twitter or at (209) 578-2383.