ROCKVILLE — “I have a dream . . .”
A pair of Fairfield children – holding up each other’s hand – brought the audience at Solano Community College to its feet, Sunday, after concluding the famous speech of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.
“Free at last, free at last, thank God, almighty, we’re free at last,” the orators said in unison.
The tribute by 8-year-old Avian Rojas and 12-year-old Haje Harris, of One World Agenda, was a part of the college’s 13th annual celebration of the civil rights leader. The three-hour event brought local luminaries, community members and public officials to the theater to commemorate King’s birthday.
“I know that there is a football game on, but sometimes we have to make sacrifices,” said master of ceremonies Thomas Trujillo.
Civil rights veterans Sherri Labedis and Charles McLaurin attended the celebration and answered questions about their separate experiences registering black people to vote.
Interviewers Marcus Fleming, from K.I. Jones Elementary, and Mehki Little, from Dover Bridge to Success School, probed each individual about their experiences in the South during the 1960s.
Asked by one of the 12-year-olds whether he felt fear while trying to get blacks to vote, McLaurin recalled driving three women in 1963 from Ruleville, Miss., to the Sunflower County Courthouse and hesitating to walk inside the building.
“These three old ladies got right out, walked up to the courthouse – and I followed them,” McLaurin said to laughter.
McLaurin, who met King in 1962, said he was arrested more than 30 times for fighting segregation and bigotry.
“I got put in jail for just walking down the street, and they wanted to shoot me,” he said.
Labedis, a Roseville resident and substitute teacher, left California when she was 18 to help register blacks to vote in 1965. After arriving in South Carolina, a young man asked her, “You came here to die, didn’t you,” which later became the title of her book.
Signing copies after the ceremony, Labedis said people still need to keep fighting for civil rights.
“It’s an ongoing battle that needs to be refought over and over again, because I feel we’re going backward,” she said.
During the celebration, the college also presented lifetime achievement awards to trustee Sarah Chapman, entrepreneur C.C. Yin and retired college vice president Jim Bracy with Assemblyman Jim Frazier as well as Ron Turner – who was representing assembly members Susan Bonilla and Mariko Yamada – also delivering honors.
Local philanthropist Yin owns 31 McDonald’s franchises from San Francisco to Sacramento and was a California State University trustee, said Solano College President Jowel Laguerre. Presenting the plaque, he said Yin has made a dramatic impact in the community.
“He is an Asian American, but you wouldn’t know because he relates to everyone as an equal,” Laguerre said.
Yin described his experience emigrating from China in 1963 and his dream being simply to survive.
“This is very meaningful especially . . . the year Dr. King gave (his) famous speech was (the) year I came to the (United States),” he said.
He said while working as a dishwasher and eventually working toward business ownership he learned of American segregation but personally realized that everybody is the same, regardless of color.
“The dream is not just for African-Americans and Asians, it’s a dream for all Americans,” he said.
Reach Adrienne Harris at 427-6956 or [email protected] Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/aharrisdr.