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Martin Luther King Day participants march in Oxnard. (Photo by Chris Frost)
Friday, January 24, 2020

By Chris Frost


Oxnard--The spirit of Dr. Martin Luther King is alive and well in Oxnard, as the 34th Annual Ventura County Martin Luther King Jr. Day walk and program brought all races, colors, and creeds together to celebrate a man who stood for peace and equality.


The event hosted by the Martin Luther King Jr. Committee of Ventura County was out bright and early and ready to make it a memorable day.


Hundreds of people gathered at Plaza Park on a chilly Monday morning to reenact the Freedom March and prove Dr. King's point that together, they can do more than they can apart.


The original March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom took place on Aug. 28, 1963, and was highlighted by Dr. King, making his "I have a dream" speech in front of the Lincoln Memorial. The speech called for the end of racism in the United States, and one of the largest rallies for human rights ever in the country. 


The group marched to the Oxnard PAL Gymnasium for a special program featuring Keynote Speaker and Moorpark City Manager Troy Brown and AKA Sorority Speech contest winner Erandi Ramirez from Curren Elementary School.


March Organizer Vincent Stewart said the event drew about 500 people in 2019.


"Since the weatherman said it's not going to rain, I'm expecting a good turnout today," he said. "We'll be having some freedom songs while we walk to the PAL gym for the program, and this will be a great morning with some great camaraderie."


The walk commemorates Dr. King's vision, he said, and there is more work to be done.


"We're getting there, but we're not there yet," Stewart said. "We want to keep his vision alive by doing the same thing that he did. There are all kinds of groups that don't have equality yet."


Miltary Volunteer Coordinator Tracy Harris brought her sailors to the march and had no problem getting volunteers.


"This is important because the military is part of the community, and this is a community event," she said.  "For us not to be here would be like us saying we're not part of the community, but we are."


To Harris, Martin Luther King Day is a time to be giving back.


"I give back every day, and we all do as much we can," Harris said. "This, right here, shows that we're not just overseas defending the country, we are right here defending what's here."


Sailor Chayde Jensen said it's important to show that that the Navy is representing the community.


"This allows me to get involved, rather than sit at the base and hide," he said. "I joined the Navy to serve my country. It took me two years to get here, but I am going to stay here. It's going to take a lot to get me out." 


Councilman Oscar Madrigal said Martin Luther King Day is vital.


"It's a day to remember his legacy and remember his words," he said. "We will all be judged by our character. It's important that Oxnard has this celebration because it's a reflection of our past and hopefully, a reflection of a better future for the city."


Supervisor John Zaragoza said celebrating Dr. King's legacy is important.


"Oxnard is such a diverse city, and our diversity is important to all of us," he said. "Martin Luther King's legacy helped me tremendously in my work with the city and my work with the county. I've been doing this for 24 years."


Myshawne Stallings came out to march, remember and honor the legacy of an extraordinary activist.


"It makes us unified and appreciate one another," he said. 


Lashelle Stallings said, coming together to march as a community is vital.


"We need to remember Dr. King and the hard work he put in and the sacrifices he made, and everyone who worked alongside him, as well," she said.  


Lashelle agreed that progress is moving forward, but there is still a lot of work to do.


"I can go out and educate the community," she said. "My specialty is financial services, so I am bridging the gap caused by discrimination." 


Congresswoman Julia Brownley was excited to see so many people up early on a Monday morning celebrating Dr. King.


"We're all living in perilous times at the moment," Brownley said. "It's more perilous than in the history of our lifetime."


Remembering the life and legacy of Dr. King, Brownley said, is essential every day.


"He's a man who fought for justice and equality," she said. "He understood the meaning of dignity. Selflessness is a description we think of so much when we think of Martin Luther King."


If King were still alive, Brownley said his advice would be not to despair.


"Keep dreaming," she said. "It's important to all of us to keep dreaming. We all remember King's I Have a Dream speech. He said in that speech; this is no time to have the luxury of cooling off or take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism. Now is the time to make real the promises of Democracy. We're fighting to hold on to our Democracy."


Mayor Pro Tem and Ventura County District Five Candidate Carmen Ramirez remembered the day King was assassinated.


"I was in college, and it was a stunning, shocking, horrible thing," she said. "Of course, we have a whole lot of work to do to achieve the goals he worked for."


She said it's a call to action.


"Remeber the struggles and sacrifices that people made," she said. "Only light can destroy the darkness, and only love can cure hate. Dr. Martin Luther King is one of my heroes."   


Ventura County Board of Supervisors District Four Candidate Kim Marra Stephenson took part in an event on Sunday in Santa Paula.


"I was honestly overcome with emotion when we were singing, We Shall Overcome," she said. "We haven't overcome yet and looking at the inequities and overwhelming power of money right now, the thought of overcoming corporations and social injustice took me over, and I was overwhelmed."