Close to 800 members of the greater Riverside community joined together for the city’s annual King holiday march down what is now Martin Luther King Boulevard – from Bordwell Park to the Riverside Community College campus – for a program organized by the Riverside African-American Historical Society. The Riverside King celebration is just one of many held throughout the Inland Empire during the holiday weekend.
San Bernardino had over 600 attendees at the annual prayer breakfast organized by the Inland Empire Concerned African-American Churches. Ontario had the same number at its morning event. There were other events in Riverside like Pastor Paul Munford’s community celebration and concert at Park Avenue Baptist Church. Rev. Dr. James Baylark organized events in Perris and Moreno Valley. Fontana’s celebration at Bethel AME Church featured talk show host Tavis Smiley and San Bernardino’s St. Paul AME Church was the site of an event attended by AME’s from throughout the Inland Empire.
After Riverside’s march, I had the pleasure of sitting next to Dr. Lulamae Clemons, 97 years young and one of Riverside’s most lauded citizens at the King program held on the RCC campus. Sharing this history with community icons like Dr. Clemons and others makes these annual events exceptional and something I look forward to every year.
During the program, 2015 MLK Walk-A-Thon Honorary Co-Chair and Riverside Community College District’s newest chancellor, Dr. Michael Burke spoke about the need to continue King’s work. “I grew-up in the Jim Crow south,” Dr. Burke said to the attendees, “when the Civil Rights Act was passed we naively thought things were resolved. And, there was the same impulse that we have come full circle when the country elected our first African-American president.” Then he gave three dates:
1607 – Jamestown, Virginia was founded.
1619 – The first slave ship arrived in Jamestown.
1969 – The final pieces of Civil Rights legislation were passed by Congress.
In this country there were 350 years of slavery and “neo-slavery” known as Jim Crow. While the formal practices of bondage and segregation have been dismantled, Dr. Burke suggested, the framework of these institutions has not completely gone away yet. “We can see this in employment discrimination…health disparities…housing discrimination.”
“Let’s have courageous conversations in Riverside,” Dr. Burke said of his new home. He is keenly aware of the challenges African-Americans, especially young Black males, continue to face. The immediate past president of Milwaukee Area Technical College, Dr. Burke’s previous position was in Wisconsin, the state that leads the nation in the number of incarcerated Black men. At 13 percent it’s nearly double the national average. And in the city of Milwaukee close to half of all Black men are unemployed.
We need the fight for racial equality to resonate throughout the entire community, he said. There is still much work left to be done. “We all have to be engaged in this fight.”
Dr. Burke’s brief message was not the most pleasant to hear, but it’s true. It is refreshing to hear someone in his position begin the dialogue and start the conversation in a community forum. We are ready to hear more from our other leaders throughout the region. Who’s next?