Those who believe in the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.'s dream of an America devoid of prejudice and discrimination need to wake up to today's unpleasant realities and continue fighting to achieve his goal.
That was the message repeated by Ventura County politicians, students and church leaders in Oxnard on Monday as 250 people marched from Plaza Park to the Oxnard Community Center to commemorate the slain civil rights crusader's birthday.
Oxnard City Councilman Bedford Pinkard said Gov. Pete Wilson's recent disclosure that he favors abolishing state affirmative action laws and the passage of Proposition 187 should spur people to action.
"I think these events now are more important than they have ever been," said Pinkard, chairman of the Martin Luther King Jr. Committee of Ventura County. "I'm very disappointed in the governor and the remarks he made last week. I'm disappointed that that could happen today in California."
The ninth annual Martin Luther King Jr. Birthday Observance started with a prayer at Plaza Park led by Pastor Broderick A. Huggins of the St. Paul Baptist Church and moved down 5th Street as participants marched and sang the civil rights anthem "We Shall Overcome."
Like many marchers, Robert Woods said he brought his children Desha, 8, and Ila, 6, so they could learn what the schools didn't teach them about the ongoing struggles of African Americans and other minorities.
"They don't know, and it's time to start teaching them," said Woods, 47. "They have to understand this world isn't as free as it needs to be."
Debbie Adams of Ventura, who is white, said her 9-year-old son Jesse, who is black, has to learn about the prejudice King faced to understand the discrimination they have experienced.
"He has had racial slurs shouted at him," Adams said. "We both have. I want him to know that there are people that are working for the good of us all."
After the march, participants gathered at the community center on Hobson Way to hear speeches, gospel readings and musical performances by the Ventura County Mass Choir.
Stealing the show was Oxnard's Toay L. Foster, the 1993-94 Miss California, who said that African Americans have become too satisfied with their modest achievements.
"Today in 1995, we cannot say that we are free at last," said Foster, a student at California Lutheran University who aspires to the California governorship. "I ask you: What happened? I'll tell you what happened, the three Cs--comfortable, complacent and caught up."
African Americans need to become more politically active, work toward becoming doctors and lawyers rather than entertainers and athletes, and look at low-paying jobs as a means rather than an end, Foster said, to the crowd's approval.
Wearing a Malcolm X cap and holding his 3-year-old son Andre in his arms, Joseph Richards said the ceremony was a lesson for his children about their heritage--and about the man who died fighting for a better world.
"I think it's necessary to educate my children about Martin Luther King," said Richards, 38, the assistant superintendent of the Ventura Unified School District. "I don't believe the black issues are given enough attention in the books the schools use."
Assemblyman Nao Takasugi (R-Oxnard) introduced the event's keynote speaker, former Assemblywoman Gwen Moore, who told the audience to continue moving forward in the struggle for equality.
"Martin Luther King achieved a lot," Takasugi said, "but his struggle is not over."
Although she lost her recent bid to become California's first black secretary of state, Moore said the experience--especially her correspondence with a 9-year-old girl named Elizabeth--was positive.
Elizabeth told Moore that she, too, wanted to become secretary of state, and that if Moore failed, she would not.
"When I was 9 years old, I didn't even know what a secretary of state was," Moore said. "Our work is not done, because we have to create many Elizabeths."
Moore ended by reminding the audience that now is not the time to abandon King's vision.
"We cannot be content," said Moore, who represented Los Angeles. "We cannot sit by and hope that others will take up our slack, not now. . . . Much of what we gained in the '60s and '70s is now at risk."