Lt. Andre Matthews was a child when the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was murdered, but he said he’s well aware of the legacy the civil rights leader left.
“This was an effort for people to gain respect and equality through nonviolence,” Matthews, 54, said. “That was the thing that stands out for me and stood out for me in my early childhood.”
The Merced police officer said he respected King’s ability to “turn the other cheek.” The civil rights leader was known for his nonviolent message and was assassinated after speaking on behalf of striking sanitation workers in Memphis, Tenn., in 1968.
Matthews will serve as the master of ceremonies during the celebration after a march in Merced to honor the civil rights leader who moved so many. The march is planned Monday along the street that bears his name, Martin Luther King Jr. Way. The 18th annual event begins at 11 a.m. Marchers will begin to gather before that at the Amtrak station on 24th Street.
About 1,000 people including schoolchildren, horseback riders and other members of the community are expected to walk to the Merced County Fairgrounds. Merced-based Rancho Valencia riders and Sol de Valle dancers are part of the multicultural celebration.
Matthews grew up in Chattanooga, Tenn., and moved the Merced area in 1979 when he served at Castle Air Force Base. He said he’s experienced blatant racism in the southeastern part of the country and a more subtle racism on this side of the country. “You never know which one is worse,” he said.
King, who was instrumental in the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, fought to overcome racism and unite people.
Eugene Drummond Sr., an organizer for the Merced march, said Matthews has been involved with planning the march that honors King for at least a decade. He said Matthews does all the legwork for planning for safety and road closures, a task that gets increasingly harder as the number of marchers grows. “We wanted to highlight him and the things he’s done for the community other than be a super, great policeman,” Drummond said.
Matthews also serves as a role model for all children, Drummond said.
Matthews, described by those who know him as a family man, has served with the Merced Police Department for 24 years. Before that he was a Merced County sheriff’s deputy. He is a 2004 graduate of the FBI National Academy for Law Enforcement, a national program that prepares law enforcement leaders.
Matthews is a member of the Merced Community Violence Intervention Prevention Task Force, a community coalition that works to prevent gang violence and improve safety for families in Merced through law enforcement agencies, educators, service groups and churches. He also works with the Boys and Girls Club of Merced County and with the Merced Community Action Agency.
The day that celebrates King is a good time for people to think about the difference people can make in their communities, Matthews said. “How can we change our country?” he said. “That’s probably the most important thing we can take away.”
Eugene Drummond Jr., who is also an organizer for the march, said Matthews is highly respected in Merced because of his intelligence, professionalism and giving nature. The younger Drummond said Matthews is the kind of person who makes others a priority.
“(The march) is about people and people who unite people,” he said. “Definitely, Lieutenant Matthews embodies that.”
The event is sponsored by the Martin Luther King, Jr. Committee and the city of Merced, and is free.
The parade’s grand marshals are Yosemite National Park Ranger Shelton Johnson and the Rev. Dwight Amey.
Johnson is well known for his portrayal of a Buffalo Soldier, the name given to members of an all-black Army regiment. Buffalo Soldiers were cavalry troops who patroled the West and protected the natural wonders of Yosemite and Sequoia parks.
The 27-year veteran of the parks service advocates for connecting members of all cultural and ethnic groups to nature and the natural wonders of the national parks.
Bishop Dwight Amey Sr. has been pastor of New Faith Tabernacle Christian Church of Merced for 35 years.
Amey is the chairman for the annual Martin Luther King Celebration. The Merced City Council honored him by naming the Dwight Amey Neighborhood Park after him.
There will be road closures associated with the parade: 24th Street between H Street and Martin Luther King Jr. Way, and Martin Luther King Jr. Way from 24th to Eighth streets.
Highway 99 southbound and northbound offramps will be closed at 14th Street. South Highway 59 at Childs Avenue will be inaccessible.
The National Weather Service forecasts a sunny sky for Monday’s event with a high temperature near 68 degrees.