Let young lead the way, MLK speakers tell Tacoma crowd

VIDEO: Tacoma's MLK celebration: How to keep the legacy alive

See Tacoma's MLK celebration with comments on how to continue his legacy.
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See Tacoma's MLK celebration with comments on how to continue his legacy.

The message was clear: Change hasn’t come, but extraordinary people will continue to fight for it.

Martin Luther King Jr.’s dream was revived Monday in the Greater Tacoma Convention and Trade Center as nearly 2,000 people gathered for the city’s 28th annual event celebrating King’s birthday.

Young people were front and center, both in the two-hour program and as the focus of speakers’ talks.

Teenagers and young adults sang the National Anthem, performed a traditional Asian Pacific dance, presented the colors, held Black Lives Matter signs onstage while delivering powerful poetry and interpretive dance, and starred in speeches about the community’s need to get involved in promoting good deeds done by local youth.

“The youth don’t need to be rescued, they need to be recognized,” city poet laureate Cathy Nguyen said. “They don’t need to be tutored, they need to be trusted. They don’t need to be helped, they need to be heard.”

Mayor Marilyn Strickland said young people don’t need to be athletes or entertainers to be extraordinary, they just need to be a positive presence in their community.

U.S. Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., urged the audience to get involved, to serve, to not remain quiet when they see injustice.

“Too often young people of color face systematic racially-motivated barriers to getting ahead, getting by and sometimes even getting by day to day,” she said. “We need a movement that includes you, the city of Tacoma and the entire country. We need a movement that makes sure the promise of justice and equality shines through for each and every American.”

Pierce County Executive Pat McCarthy pointed out that King himself was a young man when he became a civil rights leader and inspired an entire country to stand for change.

King was 25 when he became a pastor. He was 26 when he led the Montgomery bus boycott to protest segregated seating. He was 28 when elected president of the Southern Christian Leadership. At 35, he became the youngest man to receive the Nobel Peace Prize. He was assassinated at age 39.

“Despite these dire conditions, these extreme obstacles, Dr. King, this young man of color, transformed our nation,” McCarthy said.

The keynote speaker was Dr. William C. Bell, president and CEO of Casey Family Programs and a founding partner of Cities United, a national movement trying to eliminate violence among African American men and boys.

He lauded King’s courage and said more people need to be willing to stand for what’s right, to change the system that snatches hope away from young black people and to stop stereotyping African-American youth.

He said King was an ordinary man who loved to laugh, listen to music and take his children to amusement parks — but he also took extraordinary action.

“What set Dr. King apart from other men of his time was this: When Dr. King realized the human behavior being exhibited by those in power threatened humanity, he realized he must run toward the fire,” Bell said.

Bell railed against those who judge people’s character based on the color of their skin and expressed hope and belief that one day society will live up to the dream of freedom and equality for all embodied in King’s “I Have a Dream” speech.

“Here we are, 50 years after his assassination, and ‘one day’ has not yet arrived,” Bell said.

Stacia Glenn: 253-597-8653