- The Washington Times - Monday, January 16, 2006

Caneia Jefferson is too young to remember Martin Luther King when he was alive, but the 8-year-old yesterday penned a dream for her life that would have made the civil rights leader proud.

“When I grow up, I want to be a teacher and teach little kids math and reading,” Caneia wrote in blue crayon after she heard the story of King’s landmark “I Have a Dream” speech.

Caneia, a second-grader at Powell Elementary School in Northwest, participated in “Bus Stops of Service for the Homeless,” a service fair for the city’s poor and one of many local events marking Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

About 600 volunteers manned “bus stops” — named to honor civil rights leader Rosa Parks and the Montgomery, Ala., bus boycott — at McKinley Technology High School in Northeast, offering the city’s homeless everything from employment and medical services to free haircuts and facials.

Most importantly, organizers said, the event was part of the congressionally authorized Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service and offered the city’s downtrodden something more difficult to hold: hope.

“We really wanted it to tie into Dr. King’s teaching,” said Alyssa Marlow, a spokeswoman for service organization AmeriCorps-National Civilian Community Corps (NCCC), which helped host the event. “We wanted to share the compassion with those who needed it in D.C.”

While children such as Caneia painted murals and learned about King, others in the group of about 400 homeless learned how to help themselves.

Maurice Johnson, 61, of Northwest, has been in prison and has battled alcoholism. He came to the fair yesterday to get help with his resume, and left inspired to keep living a clean life.

“I didn’t have no goals or no dream,” Mr. Johnson said. “But coming here, listening to a lot of these speakers, it gives me a lot of hope.”

Gussie Brooks, who lives at the Community of Hope transitional shelter in Northwest, brought her three daughters to the fair to get a glimpse of “the difference Martin Luther King made.”

“Going from homeless to transitional stages shows the problems we’ve overcome,” said Ms. Brooks, 45. “Thanks to all of the things [King and Mrs. Parks] went through, we don’t have to go through them again.”

Other events celebrated different aspects of King’s life.

In Prince George’s County, health care officials provided free assessments for uninsured families.

Howard University featured a daylong “Lettum Play” celebration, with live performances of jazz, blues and gospel music, and poetry and dance by university students, local and world-renowned artists and local children.

The event has been held at the school’s Armour J. Blackburn University Center since the third Monday in January was declared a holiday 20 years ago to observe the birthday of King, who was born Jan. 15, 1929.

“Dr. King was an avid lover of jazz [which was] one of blacks’ contributions to society,” said Roberta McLeod, director of the Blackburn Center. “Music and poetry are ways to speak to the need for change in our society, but also a non-threatening way to bring together groups of people from diverse backgrounds, [so this program symbolizes] what he meant when he said, ‘I have a dream.’”

Charla Ginyard, a Howard alumna from Upper Marlboro, agreed.

“Music is the great equalizer,” she said as her daughter, Maya, 3, twirled to the sounds of a saxophone melody. “What better forum to bring together everyone in this community? It transcends across racial, class and socioeconomic boundaries, and I think that’s what Dr. King epitomizes: bringing together a spirit of community.”

Many noted that tremendous strides have been made since the civil rights leader’s death on April 4, 1968, but said racism remains and the nation has a long way to go before fully realizing King’s dream of equality.

Still, Bernice Mickles of Northeast said the District has changed “100 degrees” since King died.

“I lived in D.C. when it was Jim Crow, so I’ve seen a lot of changes,” said Miss Mickles, who declined to give her age, as she looked at the sea of faces in the crowd.

A few feet away, a white boy and a black girl danced together.

“I went to D.C. schools when they were segregated. … We’re not taking a back seat anymore,” she said.

“King came here and made a speech that changed the world. I didn’t see it in person, but I heard every word he said.”

• This article based in part on wire service reports.

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