Buoyed by the second inauguration of America's first African-American president a few hours earlier, some 500 people packed the Historic Ashland Armory Monday to celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. Day.
Many of the speakers during the 25th annual MLK celebration noted there's still more work to do as the slain civil rights leader's message of equality and justice ripples out to include gays and women.
As President Barack Obama's 18-minute inaugural speech was replayed in its entirety, the crowd roared its loudest when he called for equal pay for women and equal treatment for "our gay brothers and sisters."
Leaders of more than a dozen community groups spoke on how they're carrying on King's dream through food projects, women's rights, quality education, veterans' help and by drawing attention to the fact that the dream remains unfulfilled as long as 1 million of 2.4 million incarcerated Americans are black.
The line to get in the much-loved, two-hour MLK celebration stretched halfway around the block. It included a historic PowerPoint review of the civil rights movement by Ashland High School Principal Michelle Zundel, a song called "Martin Luther King Walked in Peace" by the Scenic Middle School band and choir, and a performance by DanceWorks.
Host D.L. Richardson, a journalism professor at Southern Oregon University, sang a gospel song a cappella and quoted King's favorite lines from Shakespeare: that "love is not love which alters when it alteration finds."
No other holiday, Richardson said, focuses on courage, truth, justice, compassion and humility, and "it's not a black holiday; it's a people's holiday."
"Look around at all the different cultures here. ... In our civil rights movement, so many people sacrificed so we could all be here together."
Members of the audience were clearly touched by the music and slides honoring Martin Luther King Jr.
"I appreciate him as one of the greatest leaders we've ever had," said Cara Cruickshank. "I love him and my community. I am disappointed we haven't gotten as far as we could be, what with racial profiling and vast inequities in income, especially for women."
Kamalla McNamara observed, "This is a beautiful, uplifting experience every year and one of the things about Ashland that brings joy to my heart.
"If King could see America today, he'd be amazed at the changes that came from the things he did. Even here in Ashland, black and white and people of all religions live together in peace. It is happening."
Judd Smith said King "made a historical step ... and became a martyr for my freedom. I wouldn't be able to drink out of that fountain without him. He'd be proud."
Kristina Wright said, "It's important to celebrate how far we've come and reflect on how much we have to do in the way of fair treatment for all. As Obama said today, the shrinking few are doing very well while large numbers struggle to make it."
After the two-hour celebration, SOU's Black Student Union led a walk to Lithia Park, for a replay of King's "I Have a Dream" speech and songs by the Rogue Valley Peace Choir.
John Darling is a freelance writer living in Ashland. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.