Crowd thin, spirit strong at Santa Rosa's MLK celebration

  • Tracy Blakely, left, Joan Rowe and Rusty Taylor perform with the Celebration Mass Choir during the Martin Luther King, Jr., birthday celebration in Santa Rosa, on Sunday, January 13, 2013.

    (Christopher Chung/ The Press Democrat)

What would Martin Luther King Jr. think of "wake and bake" messages on Twitter and "drinking with my homies" status updates on Facebook?

William Singleton, 16, feels shame to think of it. On Sunday, he told a crowd gathered at Santa Rosa High School to celebrate King's birthday that he thinks many young people take their lives for granted.

Sunday's event was held two days before what would be the slain civil rights leader's 84th birthday. The annual birthday celebration was held by a Sonoma County committee of religious leaders and activists and included performers, speakers and talks by winners of the annual King oratory contest, speaking on the theme: "What would Martin do now?"

Martin Luther King Jr. Birthday Celebration


Singleton, a Maria Carrillo High School junior, and 13-year-old Jose Cazares, an eighth-grader at Hilliard Comstock Middle School in Santa Rosa, were winners of the annual King oratory contest.

"I needed my English teacher to force me to write this speech," Singleton said. "But without Dr. King, we'd have none of this."

He called on those in the audience to keep the march for equality moving forward.

"I've felt shame in my heart for too long. It's time I fight for myself, for the future that I want," Singleton said.

The thermostat read 54 degrees at 5 p.m., when the annual birthday celebration began with about 200 people in the auditorium's 910 seats. By the time it ended three hours later, the room was filled with warmth.

The crowd stood, clapped and stomped for Singleton and Cazares, who also won the oratory contest.

"We are asked to do small things with great love," said Kenneth Duncan, who chaired the celebration. "This story will die forever if we stop repeating it."

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