MODESTO — America and Modesto have come a long way since the civil rights movement, but continuous courage and love are essential to keep alive the immortal dream of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.
That message on Monday permeated west Modestos Christian Love Baptist Church in its 28th annual celebration of King and his legacy, punctuated by lively gospel music, interpretive dance, poetry and praise.
What bothers me about how we honor Dr. King is, if were not careful, he becomes so ceremonial that hes no longer real, said Thabiti Boone, a promoter of President Barack Obamas Fatherhood and Mentoring Initiative.
Boone interrupted his keynote address to present the Rev. James Anderson, Christian Loves longtime pastor, with a gold dinner plate from President Obamas second inaugural celebration, in honor of Andersons tireless efforts promoting peace in Modesto.
The yearly tribute to King, Anderson said, gives him a platform to invite dignitaries and other Modestans of every race, faith and social stratum to combine with his congregation.
Participants on Monday celebrated hard-fought advancements, including the ascension of a black man to the White House.
Modesto Mayor Garrad Marsh said he saw no black faces at all when he entered Downey High School in the 1960s. Now, all of our schools are inclusive, he said.
Police Chief Galen Carroll introduced 10 members of the Policy Clergy Council, including pastors of various races, who meet with him monthly. And Frank Johnson, president of the Modesto chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, said his organization has secured open-door policies with every government agency in Stanislaus County.
But Marsh and Johnson warned against backsliding.
We were handed the dream, and what have we done with it? said Angela Drew in a stirring recitation of her poem, Dreaming Forward, that had people begging for copies after the program.
Boone barely mentioned his own compelling story, starting with a 13-year-old suicidal mother, abusive father and a dream to escape the streets of Brooklyn through basketball. He sacrificed a professional sports vision to raise a child on his own and later became an adjunct professor and recipient of many awards, including being named a White House Champion of Change.
Everyone here spoke from a sense of what Dr. King really lived for, Boone said Monday, praising a togetherness that drew him to Modesto instead of other places vying for his inspirational speaking skills on a federal holiday.
Boone spoke of Kings unwavering courage in the face of violent racism. The only solution for removing fear, he said, is Christlike love.
Thats not this soft, mushy, cheesy love you hear in songs, he said. Its the kind of love that says: Whatever you feel, I feel; your pain is my pain; your suffering is my suffering.
King defied advisers who thought it unwise for the civil rights leader to support garbage workers in Memphis, Tenn., where he was assassinated in 1968 while showing courage to love in the midst of fear, Boone said. Kings legacy is dishonored, he said, when people cling to hatred.
Respect can prevail, Boone said, urging people to take an oath to stand in courage and lend my name to continue the fight for justice, freedom and fairness for all. Just inheriting a dream is not enough.
Kermit Falls, a Modesto resident, had seen Boone speak before and brought his wife and their five children on Monday. This celebration is a powerful thing, he said, adding that leaders come together for the common good and inspiration to allow them to at least think about what we can do to better the community.
The power of love is a great thing, said Charles Genratt. This world can only thrive on love. Weve tried war. Weve tried money. Everything but love.