Pulling Together : King's Dream of Racial Harmony Unites Santa Ana Crowd

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Ten-year-old Cam Tuyen Phan had never heard of segregation until she was chosen to narrate a reenactment Monday of Rosa Park's refusal to give up a bus seat to a white person.

"I knew black people were treated meanly but I didn't know they were that separated," said Cam, who was among about 300 people from local schools and churches who gathered Monday at Santa Ana Valley High School to celebrate what would have been the 66th birthday of the late Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

After watching the children's skit about the 1955 Montgomery, Ala., bus boycott, Brenda Branch, a Santa Ana school bus driver who was born and raised in Alabama, said the children "got a bird's-eye view of what it was like. Those children have a new light now. That means a seed that's been planted. That's part of the dream being realized."

As the children sang and recited pledges in tribute to King, guest speaker Thomas N. Todd, an attorney from Chicago, asked parents the question, "Where do we go from here?" the theme of this year's celebration.

"Education has always made the difference," he said. Parents should teach children "if you want to get juice, get juiced with your mind. If you want to get strapped, get strapped with a degree. If you want to make the list, make the dean's list, not the most-wanted list." Parent Patricia Francis of Lake Forest said: "Dr. King would definitely be upset (to see that) our young kids have let drugs and violence be a priority rather than education."

Francis said she and her husband purchased a tape recording of the event to share with their two children who were unable to hear Todd remind them, "clothing styles will change, the taste in music will change. Education will stay with you forever."

Some parents said that African Americans should take responsibility for teaching their children about the black experience in America because they cannot depend on schools to do it. Attending this event, they said, was part of that job.

"Some people didn't come because they say it was Super Bowl (playoff) Sunday and everybody's tired," said Sharon Crayton of Anaheim. "But then tomorrow they wake up and they say 'What's the matter with this country? What's the matter with our children?' "

A grandparent, Alene Ellison of Santa Ana, said King's "dream hasn't died, but it hasn't matured that much. He wanted the little black children and little white children to walk hand-in-hand. He wanted all races to be together to accept each other without discrimination. Well I tell you, it's not happening fast enough."

Eleven-year-old Natasha Crawford sat through the over two-hour presentation listening intently.

"I learned a lot about the bad things black people had to go through," Natasha said. "I also learned about the importance of learning and education is power."

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