More than 50 years after the civil rights struggle brutally awakened the United States to the injustices of segregation, Medford volunteers will host a birthday observance to commemorate the contribution of human rights leader Martin Luther King Jr.

More than 50 years after the civil rights struggle brutally awakened the United States to the injustices of segregation, Medford volunteers will host a birthday observance to commemorate the contribution of human rights leader Martin Luther King Jr.

The MLK task force comprises volunteers from organizations including AmeriCorps, the Multicultural Association of Southern Oregon and Kids Unlimited, as well as several musicians and community members. The force's sole purpose is to establish a production to honor the vision of King.

This year, the MLK task force and the association will host its ninth annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day celebration from 2 to 4 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 17, in the South Medford High School Auditorium, 815 S. Oakdale Ave.

"It's to further his legacy — loving all people, not being racially hateful," said Katherine Tillotson, a member of the task force.

Jackson County Circuit Court Judge Lorenzo Mejia will be the keynote speaker. Mejia's interest in law was kindled by the heat of the civil rights movement in the '60s. He will discuss how the civil rights movement opened his eyes to the importance of laws, judicial interpretation and dissemination in erecting a strong foundation for society.

Emcee Carson Bench, a board member for the association, will open the event, followed by music by American Indian Elder Nick Hall on drums and Tom Smith on flute. Medford Mayor Gary Wheeler will make an address, and Kids Unlimited will present its Project Living Diversity Skit, in which youths, ages 12 to 14, will showcase historical events and individuals who strove for freedom and equality.

Also on the program for the event, the 140-member Rogue Valley Peace Choir, Ballet Folklórico Ritmo Alegre — a local dance company — and the Living on Dreams Band will perform.

The MLK task force will present the 2009 "I Have a Dream" award to Nicole Strykowski, who organized a peaceful rally in response to a neo-Nazi rally in Phoenix.

The award was created in 2008 after students from SMHS delivered encouraging letters, food and toys to a family whose home in west Medford was attacked by racially-motivated vandals who seared a cross and the letters "KKK" into the lawn.

"We as a task force wanted to recognize the students for being courageous and trying to right a wrong," Tillotson said.

"His (King's) dream was that all people of all ages and color would be harmonious. We still want that same thing here in the 21st century."

The birthday celebration is free, but attendees are encouraged to bring nonperishable food items for ACCESS Inc. Refreshments will be available. For more information, call 541-621-2573.