Merced County Times Newspaper
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Residents gather for MLK celebration


Even though the event was unfortunately delayed, the 26th annual Martin Luther King, Jr. Unity March and Black History Month celebration, organized by the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Committee, was lively and full of spirited community members.

Hundreds of local residents gathered at the Amtrak Station in downtown Merced along with a wide variety of notable dignitaries, such as State Assemblywoman Esmerelda Soria, Merced Mayor Matthew Serratto, Merced NAACP Chapter President Allen Brooks, and more, to celebrate and support black history and the black community. Many of such community leaders took time to talk to and engage the public at the beginning of the event. The attendees then proceeded down Martin Luther King Jr. Way to the Merced Theatre, where food, music, shopping, as well as a lovely awards ceremony awaited them.

Joyce Dale, the parade coordinator, took the microphone and greeted the march participants. Merced City Councilwoman Bertha Perez was also there, and gave a short but fiery speech. “I want people to remember that we may not look like we are doing the right thing, but we are actually standing up for what’s right,” she said. “I am proudly a troublemaker.” Her counterpart, Councilman Jesse Ornelas then took the mic and spoke about the importance of activism and the best ways to go about it. Ornelas proceeded to speak about what he called “the prevalence and, unfortunate, protection of racism and racist groups in Merced,” and that all residents need to work together to fight racism.

The next speaker was Christian Santos, who was there as a representative of Congressman John Duarte. He thanked the community, with a special emphasis on organizers Tamara Cobb and Allen Brooks for their hard work on this event as well as their many other contributions to the community. Santos finished off with expressing his happiness seeing the work being done in our community and expressing his commitment to supporting it.

Following on microphone was NAACP President Allen Brooks. He gave a brief and heartwarming speech thanking the community for their attendance of the event and reflecting on the reasons that such events are so important. “We are paying homage to all of our ancestors that walked these streets,” he said passionately.

Next up to speak was Assemblywoman Soria who expressed her gratefulness for people like Martin Luther King Jr. who were necessary for creating the opportunities that she and many others have enjoyed. She then spoke about how we as a society have made incredible progress, but that “there is still a lot of work to be done.”

City Councilman Fue Xiong then took the mic, speaking about what he called an inherently unfair system that has been rigged against African Americans. Xiong referenced a variety of statistics related to disproportionate and mass incarceration that “need to be changed.”

In turn, President of Merced College Chris Vitelli talked about how important it is that we all continue to stand together to improve our circumstances. “We are partners, we are friends, and we are standing with you.”

Among the crowd were numerous people holding custom made signs as well as others chanting about race inequality and the martyrdom of Martin Luther King, Jr. Surprisingly, there were even people who just happened to stumble across the procession and joined in. At the tail end of the parade was Tenaya Middle School’s Marching Band, who were being led by Mayor Matthew Serratto riding a beautiful horse. Eventually, the procession made it to Main Street, where there was food, vendors, as well as an award ceremony. One major focus of the event was to help youths of Merced County sign up to vote, so there was information available as well as a people ready to assist.

The Master and Mistress of the event were Kelly Turner and Jeremy Jenkins, who did an amazing job keeping things fun and lively throughout the ceremony as they introduced the many speakers and acts.

Mayor Serratto took the stage and announced Joyce Dale as the official Poet Laurette of Merced. Serrrato also noted that Martin Luther King Jr. Day is the only federally acknowledged Day of Service, and proceeded to announce that the City of Merced formally acknowledges  the holiday as well. Additionally, Mayor Serrato was this year’s recipient of the People’s Choice Award for his notable record of involvement in the community.

Following a fun performance by the Praise dancers from the New Faith Tabernacle, Dr. Maria Martin, the events Grand Marshall, was brought on stage to speak. She reflected on how amazing it is that not so long ago, someone like her, a woman of color, could hardly obtain even the most minimal education compared to today, where people like her, can be and are professionals as well as doctors. She proceeded to talk about Dr. King and how he, in spite of it being often illegal and problematic in the eyes of many, did all he could to hold society accountable and engaged in “good trouble.”

“If we want to change the nation we need to change the people,” Dr. Martin said. “If we want the nation to change, WE need to change.”

Congressman Duarte’s representative Santos took the stage to present this year’s Community Service Awards to a variety of standout individuals: Alexandria Marquez, Annissa Fragroso, James Lamont Walker, Jeremy Jenkins, Justin Anderson, Reinetta Bazemore, Rhonda Batson, Stacy Baber Johnson, and Dr. Wanda Patrick.

After a few artistic performances, the stage was given to Keynote Speaker, Pastor Morris. Notably, he mentioned an opportunity he had as a youth in Los Angeles to see Dr. Martin Luther King. Additionally, he spoke about amazing things he has seen change over the years, as well as what he viewed as unfortunate shortcomings that are present yet mostly ignored.

“We are doing better, but better is not right,” he said.

Following that, last year’s Martin Luther King Spirit award winner, Allen Brooks, was given the stage and then took his time to speak about and introduce this year’s Spirit Award recipient Loretta Spence. Loretta then took the spotlight to reflect on her time as a community advocate and her gratefulness for the community as well as her gratefulness for being recognized.

A funny and heartwarming moment came near the end of the ceremony when the MLK Committee pulled a fast one on Kelly Turner, and presented her with a   surprise community award to honor her for all the hard work she has done.

Kudos also went to other supporters, including the Merced Multicultural Arts Center, LaGuardia Security, Journey For Justice, Tamara Cobb, Estella Dunn, Marylene Riley, United Domestic Workers Union, Supervisor Rodrigo Espinoza and Katalina Zambrano.

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