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Longest-running MLK Day march in the state marks 35 years in El Cerrito

El Cerrito hosts longest-running MLK Jr. Day march in California
El Cerrito hosts longest-running MLK Jr. Day march in California 02:48

For 35 years, El Cerrito has hosted a Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. celebration that even the pandemic couldn't stop, making it the longest continuously held MLK Day event in California.

It's a celebration that brings together the East Bay city like few other events can.

"It is vitally important for all cities big and small to come together in peaceful protests and peaceful gatherings to promote unity within the community," explained Eevelyn Janean Mitchell, the former poet laureate of El Cerrito.

The long-running protest continued Monday with the annual march through El Cerrito. In part, it honors those in the early years who had to push for MLK Day to be recognized. 

Even after the birthday of the Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King Jr. was declared a national holiday in the 1980's. The city of El Cerrito did not officially acknowledge the holiday right away.

"It is important for the smaller cities as well as the bigger cities to continue to help and promote to keep the dream alive," said Mitchell.

"We're so happy to be able to continue to keep the dream alive in the city of El Cerrito," said Patricia Durham the current El Cerrito MLK celebration chairperson

And as one generation passes the torch to another in this community, the impact of Doctor King's words weigh heavily on those born long after this celebration started.

"It's very powerful civic drive and engagement has come from this organization and this program," said El Cerrito MLK celebration speaker Caden Cotton-Blake. 

Inspiring new leaders to get involved locally and pay more attention to the issues happening across the street and around the nation.

"It's an amazing community-building opportunity. And the fact that this has been 35 years strong and only continues to grow is extremely empowering for me," added Cotton-Blake.

While its origins may be one of division, today city leaders say no other gathering brings El Cerrito together like its MLK celebration.

"This event has such deep roots in our community that it's great to see it come up every year. Just because you really find a unity in it," said El Cerrito Police Chief Paul Keith.

After 35 years, the community knows that it's helping to bring us all closer, but more must be done to help doctor king's words become a reality.

"He would probably think that, 'Oh wow, we've made a few steps forward, but we have a lot of steps forward to go.' And he would be proud of those of us who are continuing to keep his dream alive," said Mitchell. 

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