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Postponed MLK march set to proceed this Saturday

Expect a spirited Unity March and peace signs during the 26th annual MLK Jr. celebration in Merced.
Expect a spirited Unity March and peace signs during the 26th annual MLK Jr. celebration in Merced.

After being delayed due to January’s devastating rainstorms, the 26th annual Martin Luther King Jr. Unity March & Celebration will be held this Saturday, Feb. 18.

The event will begin at 10 a.m., at the Amtrak Station, 324 W 24th St., in downtown Merced, where members of the community will gather and line up for a Unity March. The march will begin at 11 a.m. as participants make their way down Martin Luther King Jr. Way to the Merced Theatre at Main Street.

The celebration will continue at noon, inside the Merced Theatre, where noted residents will be given an opportunity to speak about black history as well as the progress of the local community. There will be food vendors, treats for the kids, stage performances and community award announced too.

While some of the public figures who originally planned to attend this event have unfortunately had scheduling conflicts with the new date, there are still expected to be a wide variety of elected officials and community figureheads in attendance.

Among the special guests initially scheduled to attend is Dr. Maria Martin as the event’s Grand Marshal. Dr. Martin is an assistant professor of African History & Critical Race and Ethnic Studies here at the University of California, Merced. Previously she taught gender studies at the University of Ibadan all the way back in Nigeria. Additionally, when still in Nigeria, she conducted research on Nigerian women’s activism. Acting on her belief in building solidarity and connecting her community to the university, she founded the Black Alliance. The group is a coalition of Black UCM Staff, students, and community members who all advocate for and support the black community here in Merced, whether on or off campus.

Dr. Robert A. Morris was named the keynote speaker of the event. Dr. Morris, also commonly known as Pastor Morris, alongside his wife, Gloria Morris, and family founded Valley Harvest Church here in Merced just over 20 years ago back in 2002. Pastor Morris has completely dedicated himself to doing God’s will and is known throughout his community for his bold and inspiring sermons. Notably, he served the country by volunteering in the Navy during the Vietnam conflict. He attended college at California State Universities at San Jose and Hayward, and holds an Honorary Doctorate of Divinity from the Sacramento Theological Seminary & Bible College. Additionally, he was the owner of RAM Associates, an executive search,
placement and EEO/Diversity consulting firm and has worked for Merced County for over 20 years.

This year’s winner of the Spirit Award is Loretta Spence, which is the highest award the Martin Luther King committee gives in Merced. She will be the second honoree to receive this award, and it will be presented to her by, fittingly, last year’s recipient and NAACP president Allen Brooks. Loretta has lived, worked, advocated, and supported Merced County for over 40 years. She graduated from Merced High School and went on to obtain an Associates Degree in Early Childhood Education from Merced College. She has since retired from Merced County Department of Workforce Investment with thirty yeas of service completed. She has been a foster parent for over 30 years and was a CASA advocate for twelve years before serving two terms as the organization’s President. Currently, Loretta is the President of Love Faith and Hope Inc, President and founding member of the Merced Black Parallel School Board, and is the Housing Chair for NAACP.


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