Former San Francisco mayor and longtime state lawmaker Willie Brown on Friday told a packed audience at Modesto Junior College that Martin Luther King Jr. was the most influential person in his life and career.
He spoke about King's launch into national prominence when he led the Montgomery bus boycott in Alabama.
In 1955, Rosa Parks had been arrested for refusing to surrender her seat to a white male passenger in accordance with segregation rules. King, a little-known preacher with no relationships or connections to the white establishment in Montgomery, stepped up and led this effort, Brown said.
"He was a man who literally took advantage of every opportunity or challenge if it had something to do with public service," Brown said about King.
Brown headlined Modesto's 16th annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day celebration as the keynote speaker. The event was sponsored by the Modesto Peace/Life Center, the city of Modesto, Modesto Junior College and California State University, Stanislaus.
More than 700 people attended the free event at the MJC main auditorium. Even on a Friday night, a large crowd of people chose to come together to honor King's legacy, said Modesto City Councilman Dave Lopez.
"What a powerful statement that is," Lopez said to the audience. "It's just a powerful evening."
Brown, a former state Assembly speaker, spoke about how King galvanized a nation
and became a symbol for the civil rights movement of the 1960s. He said King created a "silhouette" of service that others in the future could replicate.
"What King represented was something magical," Brown said.
The event also featured music and spoken word performances along with the presentation of the second annual Martin Luther King Jr. Legacy Award to community activist Tommie Muhammad.
"(Muhammad) is a man that is not afraid to take a stand even when it's not popular," said Ruben Villalobos, an attorney and a member of the Modesto City Schools Board of Education.
Muhammad is a minister, former director of Modesto's King-Kennedy Memorial Center and former social services coordinator for the city of Modesto. Muhammad has stood up and spoken on behalf of many, said Wendy Byrd, president of the Modesto-Stanislaus Branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.
"Tommie, like Dr. King, saw the good qualities and potential in people," Byrd said before giving the award to Muhammad.
A member of the MLK committee that organizes the annual events to commemorate King's life, Muhammad said he was humbled to receive the award.
"I'm truly honored," Muhammad said before thanking a long list of people. "Many worked with us to make this event happen each year."
Bee staff writer Rosalio Ahumada can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 578-2394.