Vondell McKenzie wants to make sure the work and sacrifice of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. are never forgotten.
“We want to recognize his work. It’s the only way young people will know where their rights come from,” said McKenzie, president of the local NAACP chapter. “He went to jail for those rights.”
Scores will celebrate the slain civil rights leader by participating in the Martin Luther King Jr. Day march and rally, which begins at 10:30 a.m. Jan. 20 at City Hall, 520 J St.. After a greeting message from city officials, the crowd will march to First Baptist Church, 809 D St. Past celebrations have included poems, songs, dances and a video of King’s 1963 “I Have a Dream” speech on the National Mall.
McKenzie said some details have yet to be finalized, but the celebration will involve speeches about the civil rights movement and information on King.
The event is organized by Kenté Women’s Club. McKenzie said her goal is to get as many cultures involved as possible.
“We want it to be a community event, not just one ethnicity,” she said, adding that Fresno has a Martin Luther King Jr. parade that features entries from many cultures.
McKenzie said the local event has grown since it started and she’s hoping to find a facility next year that will accommodate more people than the church holds.
“We have outgrown what the church can hold,” she said. “We have young people and people from other churches who will march and then go home. We want them to stay.”
McKenzie said she approached a city official about moving the ceremony after the march to the Los Banos Community Center. She said she was informed that using the center would mean paying a rental fee and would be costly to the city because it would require staff to work overtime. McKenzie, who said she was unhappy with the city’s response, said she is still hopeful that a new venue will be found by the 2015 march.
In 1983, President Ronald Reagan signed a bill declaring the third Monday in January a federal holiday honoring King’s birth. The holiday was observed for the first time in 1986.