Nearly 150 people broke bread on the San Jacinto campus of Mt. San Jacinto College early Monday to honor the dream of “Dr. Martin Luther King with speeches, gospel music and praise dancing.
The fifth annual Martin Luther King Unity Breakfast brought together the young and old and people of various race, creed, color and political philosophy from all parts of the college district to celebrate what would have been the civil-rights leader’s 82nd birthday.
The event also coincided with the 25 anniversary of the creation of the national holiday in his honor.
This year’s breakfast theme, “Beyond Acceptance,” was the draw for nearly 50 art-contest entries, with first place going to MSJC student Taylor Phillps, 21, a Riverside resident, for his abstract depiction of “acceptance.”
Hosted by the college’s Diversity Committee, the 3-1/2-hour event took place in the San Jacinto Campus library.
Professor Willie Hamilton, chairman of social sciences and the event’s chief organizer, said much has improved since the 1960s when King spearheaded the civil rights movement. But much more is needed, he added.
Hamilton said today’s African-Americans are better off economically and educationally than they were in the 1960s.
“There definitely has been progress, but I’m more concerned about attitude changes in the country,” he said. “I don’t think they’ve occurred fast enough.”
“The word `tolerance’ bothers me,” Hamilton said. “`Tolerance’ means that maybe you don’t like an individual because of their ethnic or racial background or sexual orientation, but you put up with it — you’re basically gonna keep your feelings to yourself.
“`Acceptance’ means you really appreciate the person as an individual, appreciate their differences, appreciate whatever values and talents they bring.”
Would the slain civil rights leader be happy today with the state of race relations?
“He’d be somewhat happy,” Hamilton said. “But what he really wanted was for people to be judged by the content of their character, not by the color of their skin.”
Hamilton said universal acceptance of racial differences is still “quite a ways away.”
In his invocation, The Rev. Charles Hentley, of the Greater Reconciliation Assembly in Perris, said Martin Luther King’s birthday should give everyone pause for reflection.
“Everyone should remember what Dr. King contributed, not only to civil rights but to humanity as a whole,” he said. “We ought to be thankful for the doors he opened because of all that he did.”
Following his public remarks, Hentley, a military veteran, said he has seen proof of King’s legacy in markedly improved relations among people of different races in uniform.
Jessie Diakis, of Moreno Valley, characterized the event as an opportunity to share “one of the greatest days we need to remember.”
“It’s not only for what Dr. King did for the African-American community, but what he did for other communities and ethnicities,” Diakis said. “The biggest thing was to bring love and community together, instead of colors and bridges,” Diakis said.