Hundreds in Mesa celebrate King's legacy - East Valley Tribune: News

Hundreds in Mesa celebrate King's legacy

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Posted: Monday, January 18, 2010 2:58 pm | Updated: 3:27 am, Sat Oct 8, 2011.

Rain, cold and wind didn't deter hundreds of people of all ages and races from celebrating Martin Luther King's birthday Monday in downtown Mesa.

Slideshow: MLK Day celebrations

MLK Day events and news

Rain, cold and wind didn't deter hundreds of people of all ages and races from celebrating Martin Luther King's birthday Monday in downtown Mesa.

Slideshow: MLK Day celebrations

MLK Day events and news

They recited his legendary words, listened to inspirational speeches and became empowered to keep fighting for change during the day's theme, "Many Faces, One Community."

Shandra Purnell of Mesa gave a rousing rendition of King's memorable "I Have a Dream" speech in front of about 300 people at a 7 a.m. breakfast to kick off the 23rd annual Mesa MLK celebration at the Mesa Marriott Hotel.

Purnell, a 27-year-old University of Phoenix student and doctoral adviser, said she was picking up the torch from her father, the Rev. Jimmy Purnell, who used to recite the same words until his speech was impaired after a stroke and heart attack.

"When I was a young girl, I attended the breakfast and the march before there was a King holiday," said Shandra, a member of the Canaan Missionary Baptist Church. "This day means to me a look into the past and the struggles of the African-American community in the U.S. But I also see it as a day of hope, greater change and even more better things to come."

Breakfast keynote speaker Sen. Leah Landrum-Taylor, D-Phoenix, was frank about the grim state budget deficit, high unemployment rate and rising job losses as she repeated, "enough is enough" throughout her speech.

Landrum-Taylor spoke of a woman who walked with her baby from Scottsdale to the state capitol to seek job and housing help. She talked about the high number of children in foster care who are turned out on their own on their 18th birthday with only a $500 stipend and a garbage bag for their belongings.

"We have to work together and speak up," said Landrum-Taylor, who is married with three children. "Each of you have the ability to do incredible things. We can't fight this fight alone."

Landrum-Taylor encouraged everyone to remember Mahatma Gandhi and King's words, and how their nonviolent ways were a slow process but were "mobilized in spite of opposition."

"So what do we do when we fear the bigness of life is happening to us? We don't give up," said Landrum-Taylor, who is also an adjunct college professor. "We have to make sure we work together and readjust to what's going on, and say enough is enough."

During the breakfast, various awards and scholarships were given to help those in need and to remember those who have given service to others. There was singing and a live band. At the end everyone joined hands and sang, "God Bless America" and "We Shall Overcome."

Gail McClelland, who has owned a Mesa hair salon for 20 years, said the speeches and the recent devastation in Haiti have given her the "hope to continue to strive."

"I feel I have the obligation to continue," said McClelland, 53, who was born and raised in Mesa. "I think today's festivities give the community a chance to see what everyone's doing and add support. It's a rededication to service. You got to keep on keeping on."

After the breakfast, hundreds of people lined Center Street at 11 a.m. to watch an hourlong parade that included junior high school marching bands, church and community groups, and the Mesa Police Honor Guard.

The festivities continued at noon during the Celebration Festival at the Mesa Arts Center featuring live entertainment, food booths, medical screenings and a job fair.

The 16th annual MLK Basketball Classic was also held with five high school basketball games at Arizona State University and the University of Arizona to raise money for scholarships. A game between Mesa High School and Mountain View High School ended the day's activities. Mesa High won in overtime.

Bernando LaPallo, who was at the breakfast, turned 108 in August. He wrote a book about his life and said he met King and his wife in New York in the 1960s. He also remembers meeting George Washington Carver in 1935 in Alabama.

LaPallo recalled segregation, the fight for civil rights and hearing about King's assassination on the radio.

"First, (former President Abraham) Lincoln started our fight, then (South African president Nelson) Mandela, then Martin Luther King Jr., who has been the Moses for colored people," LaPallo said. "(President Barack) Obama is now going to do well, although it won't be easy."

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