“Remember to walk a mile in his moccasins
and remember the lessons of humanity
taught to you by your elders.
We will be known forever by the tracks we leave
in other people’s lives, our kindness and generosity.
Take the time to walk a mile in his moccasins.”
— Mary T. Lathrap, “Judge Softly,” 1895
In her poem, Mary T. Lathrap conveys the message that we can only understand others by walking a mile in their shoes. And if we understand the problems of others, the burdens they carry, the struggles that they must overcome, then we will be motivated to help them.
In one of Martin Luther King’s sermons, given at the New Covenant Baptist Church in Chicago, he spoke about life having several dimensions. One of these concerned our helping other people, working for the good of our community, and generally trying to improve our whole environment. He asked the following questions of himself:
“What will happen to humanity if I don’t help?”
“What will happen to the civil rights movement if I don’t participate?”
“What will happen to my city if I don’t vote?”
“What will happen to the sick if I don’t visit them?”
The answer to these questions may begin to surface tomorrow, during the annual Martin Luther King, Jr. celebration. Activities will begin with a reception at 2 p.m. at Martin Luther King, Jr. Middle School, 601 Lilly Street. Coffee, punch, and cookies will be available.
The theme for this year’s observance, “Fulfilling the Dream: Walking in My Neighbor’s Shoes,” asks the question, “What are you doing for others?” The program was developed by the Martin Luther King, Jr. Local Host Committee, presided over by president Ruth Henderson.
Noel Jimenez, Vice-Principal of Martin Luther King, Jr., Middle School, will act as Master of Ceremonies for the event. Father Jim Pappas of the Greek Orthodox Church in Fresno will give the invocation and benediction.
Students from Jack G. Desmond, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Thomas Jefferson Middle School choirs will lead the audience in singing “Lift Every Voice and Sing” after the invocation and “We Shall Overcome” at the close of the program. During the event, Kirstyn Olsen, Choir Teacher, will lead the combined voices from our middle schools in a special selection for the celebration.
Cecilia Massetti, superintendent of the Madera County Office of Education, will introduce officials who are present for the event. This will be followed by one of the highlights of the afternoon: student speakers.
The students auditioned before the Local Host Committee on
Dec. 12, 2016. The committee received more than 150 submissions, and the six students who were chosen to speak at the celebration incorporated King’s ideals into their personal experiences and goals.
Fabian Mendoza, a 7th grade student at Martin Luther King Jr. Middle School, will explain how the determination of Edgar Segura, a star running back for Mendota High School who now attends Mt. San Antonio College, inspired him to excel in both academics and athletics.
Wilson Middle School seventh grader Waleed Escheik will talk about a Muslim boy who was questioned by police when a teacher spotted a digital clock in his pencil box and thought it might be a bomb. Waleed reports, “The fear that this young person must have felt can serve to remind us that all of us are real people with real emotions.” Another Wilson student, Dillon Haworth, will discuss misperceptions of white males as being privileged. He cites his great-grandparents, who lost everything they had in the Oklahoma dust bowl, yet persevered.
Zoe Bitter, an eighth-grader at Dairyland School, cites Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani student who was shot in the head by the Taliban for advocating school for girls, survived the wound, and became the youngest person to receive the Nobel Peace Prize. She also incorporates Nelson Mandela’s fight against apartheid in South Africa in her talk.
Nicole McCann, who is in the ninth grade at Madera High, tells how she was critical of students whose books were “in bad shape” until she learned that the students had to take their books to the fields and study while their parents worked. Her feelings toward the children of migrant field workers became more empathic when she visited the Martin Luther King Memorial in Washington, D.C., last summer.
Madera High senior Zainab Qaiser will relate the experiences of a teenaged Muslim girl who has had to suffer from comments like, “Why did you bomb the Twin Towers?” This girl was also asked, “How’s your dad, Osama?” She was tormented by interrogations like, “Are you hiding a bomb under that?” The latter comment is a reference to the hijab, a scarf worn around the heads of Muslim women. Zainab will explain what it is like to “walk in her shoes.”
Members of the MLK committee were quite impressed with how much thought these students had put into the development of their speeches. Community members who attend will gain an appreciation not only for the quality of education that the speakers are receiving, but also of the knowledge that they are passing on to others.
Committee member and former Madera County Superintendent of Schools Sally Frazier will present the Humanitarian Award to Betty Smith. Betty has been president of the Madera Rescue Mission since 2000 and delights in serving Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners to the organization’s clients. She has also been Parent Volunteer of the Year at John Adams Elementary School and President of the Women’s Ministry at First Christian Church.
Committee member Leonard Bass will introduce this year’s keynote speaker, Joseph Castro, president of California State University, Fresno. Castro, the grandson of farm workers and the first person in his family to graduate from a university, grew up in Hanford. He graduated with bachelor and master degrees from the University of California, Berkeley, and a doctorate from Stanford University. He is the recipient of the 2010 University of California Student Association’s Administrator of the Year award as well as the Martin Luther King Jr. Award.
Everyone is welcome to this perennially uplifting celebration in honor of Martin Luther King Jr. Admission is free.