Martin Luther King's legacy honored

Photos by Thom Larkin | Daily Tidings

ABOVE: Children of farmworkers spoke of how Caesar Chavez as well as Dr. Martin Luther King fought for the equal rights of everyone. FRONT: Actors from the Planned Parenthood Teen Theater group perform an original skit about how people only can check one box to describe their ethnicity.

More photos in the .

A tribute on Monday drew more than 800 people to Ashland's Historic Armory to celebrate the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. At around 11:30 a.m., attendees lined up for blocks trying to secure a place in the first-come seating event, which began at noon.

"We had to turn away about 150 people," said Claudia Alick, an associate producer for the Oregon Shakespeare Festival and organizer for the event.

"They were very disappointed. I could see how passionate they were about being a part of this. That passion was a beautiful thing to see."

— Youth Dance Troupe performs


D.L. Richardson, assistant professor at Southern Oregon University, served as master of ceremonies for what turned out to be a three-hour celebration. Students from the Ashland School District and SOU, OSF actors and other community groups sang, danced and performed skits,. OSF director Bill Rauch gave the keynote address.

In Richardson's introduction of third- and fourth-grade singers, he pointed out the annual tradition of Walker Elementary students marching on Friday before Martin Luther King Day.

"To see all those kids marching the streets of Ashland, with their placards of freedom and peace," Richardson said, "they make me tear up every year."

— International Students give "I Have a Dream" speech

Richardson introduced seven SOU international students, saying only that they were performing a rendition of King's "I Have a Dream" speech. From that point on, not one word of English was spoken.

The students all read the final paragraph of King's speech in their native tongues, ranging from Spanish to German.

The audience laughed, clapped and cheered when Jamile Cerquera of Brazil, finished her animated, Portuguese version of, "Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!"

— OSF Actors Joseph Midyett and Ryan Anderson perform

But it was Ashland High School student Nisha Burton's play "Being Brown in a White Town," that was the highlight of the afternoon.

Burton, 17, who wrote the play last week for the King celebration, performed alongside nine other teen actors from the Planned Parenthood Teen Theater. She used humor, poetic rhymes and perfect comic timing to highlight the trials and tribulations of being a descendant of diverse races in a predominantly white community.

In the play, Burton said she's "Cherokee, black, white and Gypsy. But is my race all that you see?"

She joked about constantly hearing the questions: What [race] are you? Why don't you act more black? Why don't you act more white?

The other actors held up white boxes for a poem dedicated to the struggle she faces when trying to decide which box she should check when determining a race category on application forms.

Burton received a standing ovation when she ended the play with, "I'm Nisha. I'm me. I'm tired of boxes too small."

— Nisha Burton's skit Videos by Orville Hector | Daily Tidings

New this year

This year's theme was a recommittment to the ideals of civil rights, inclusion and social justice through non-violence, compassion and courage. Organizers passed out cards for audience members to sign. The cards listed 10 objectives, which included a commitment to fight discrimination and ignorance by actively seeking knowledge and understanding.

Organizers also encouraged the audience to march to the Plaza to listen to King's "I Have a Dream" speech that played on a loud speaker system.

Carol Knapp was one of about 200 audience members who took up the challenge.

Knapp, who recently moved to Medford from Ashland, said, "This year's event was the best so far."

She's attended every King celebration in Ashland since the event began 20 years ago. Knapp remembers the first MLK Day, held at SOU.

"Just a few people trickled in then and it was mostly students. Since it moved to the Armory, it's really grown and there's a much better mix of the community."

Knapp says she attends every year because as a teen during the late 60s she watched the Civil Rights Movement unfold, watched the protests, the violence and police brutality.

"It's important to always remember Martin Luther King and to remember what he did for civil rights in this nation."

Staff writer can be reached at 482-3456 x226 or .

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