During last year’s Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day Ceremony, rain failed to stop the crowd from coming out to support the celebration. This year the weather tested crowds again, this time, with 80-plus-degree temperatures. But the blazing sun didn’t deter more than 200 people from attending Cerritos’ sixth annual celebration of the civil rights champion.
Attendees young and old braved a blistering morning sun Jan. 17 at the Cerritos Civic Center to see speakers, musical performances and dance tributes inspired by King’s message of nonviolence and social justice
“Last year we had rain and had to move the celebration inside into the Cerritos Library Skyline Room,” said Cerritos Mayor Joseph Cho. “But the temperature doesn’t matter. Cerritos is happy to celebrate the legacy of Dr. King and I’m happy we had such a big crowd. Especially all of the young people.”
Area youngsters were present throughout the event as both performers and attendees.
Before the ceremony began, crowds admired art boards and binders displaying essays and artwork created by students from the .
Darrell Mann, a 22-year-old Cerritos resident who was perusing the displays, said he was particularly fond of an art piece that featured both King and President Obama.
“That’s always special to see one of the biggest icons who represented peace and justice with the first African American to become president,” he said. “The fact that an elementary student created this piece of art just shows that Dr. King’s legacy lives on with people of all ages.”
King’s legacy was celebrated and translated through other art forms as well. The Zoe Christian Fellowship “Expressions” Dance Team opened the ceremony adorned in all-white attire, moving seamlessly onstage.
A short time later, the Cerritos Alumni Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta GEMS took center stage as members performed an acoustic version of John Lennon’s peace-inspired song, “Imagine.” The GEMS then followed with a step show.
But the biggest applause of the day and the most audience interaction occurred when Katelyn Robinson, a 10-year-old student, performed a soulful rendition of “This Little Light of Mine.”
When Robinson belted out the opening words of the tune, the multiracial crowd clapped in unison, some even putting down the programs that they were using as fans and sunshades.
In addition to students, members of the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department, military personnel, clergy and the Cerritos City Council attended the ceremony. Elected representatives such as Congresswoman and Assemblyman Tony Mendoza were also in attendance.
Sanchez’s short speech emphasized King’s mission of nonviolence -- a message that the congresswoman believes should take on a “renewed importance,” after she referenced the recent murder of six people during a lone gunman’s assassination attempt on Arizona Representative Gabrielle Giffords.
Sanchez also referenced another Senate colleague, Rep. John Lewis (D-GA), who as a young man, participated in the 1965 Selma-to-Montgomery marches.
Lewis helps organize a yearly observance of the “Bloody Sunday” anniversary, when Alabama state troopers and local police brutalized peaceful marchers with teargas and nightsticks as they attempted to cross the Edmund Pettus Bridge.
Sanchez reflected on the time that she visited Selma during a recent anniversary and walked in the steps of the marchers who faced violence, but remained peaceful. “We all have to find nonviolent means to fight injustice,” Sanchez added.
This year marked the 25th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King Day as a federal holiday. The 1964 Nobel Peace Prize winner remains the only private American citizen granted a federal holiday in his honor.
"I thought it was a good event and hopefully people walked away from it with a new perspective on King," said Cerritos resident Damien Thomas. "This is the first time I brought my 7-year-old son to this event. He's too young to understand the entire message of King, but I'm hopeful this program will make him interested to learn more."