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  • Renee C. Byer / Sacramento Bee

    Spectators line the street in front of the state Capitol as a marching band passes by during Sacramento's annual commemoration of Martin Luther King Jr. on Monday, Jan. 20, 2014.

  • Renee C. Byer / Sacramento Bee

    Bold, colorful images are on display during the annual march Martin Luther King Jr. in Sacramento on Monday, Jan. 20, 2014.

  • Sam Sparks directs the nonprofit MLK365 and will oversee the 33rd annual Capitol March for the Dream today in Sacramento.

Q&A: Sam Starks, director of MLK 365, talks about Sacramento’s Martin Luther King Day march

Published: Monday, Jan. 20, 2014 - 12:00 am
Last Modified: Tuesday, Jan. 21, 2014 - 3:52 am

“When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir. This note was a promise that all men – yes, black men as well as white men – would be guaranteed the inalienable rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” – Martin Luther King Jr.

When an estimated 28,000 people take to the streets of Sacramento this morning to march in honor of the late Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Sam Starks will be cruising around from Grant High School in Del Paso Heights – the northern route – to the Oak Park Community Center – the southern route – to ensure the 33rd annual Capitol March for the Dream goes smoothly.

Starks, 52, has managed the march for 10 years and rebranded it under the nonprofit MLK365, dedicated to the idea that, every day of the year, we should all practice King’s commitment to justice and equality for all. Starks says King’s nonviolent struggle is far from over.

What should marchers keep in mind during their 5-mile treks today?

If you say you love King and like social justice and fairness and equity, you might find yourself at odds with people and companies and businesses and your own government. We’re still dealing with the social angst brought on by high levels of disparity and poverty and inequities that are continuing to grow, whether it’s in education or the 2.4 million people in prison, the 1.3 million people dropping out of school annually, one every 26 seconds.

When you drop out of school, there’s a pipeline from playground to prison brought on by high levels of poverty, not only of the body but of the spirit. Many of them are locked into a generation spiral that flows down to their grandkids. When we march, we ask the city and the corporate community to partner with us, because black and Latino and Asian American communities can’t save their children alone.

Go to any Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard in America and you will see a disproportionate number of poor people of color living next to sewage plants or freeways and kids breathing bad air as they walk to school. The march begins in Oak Park next to Father Keith B. Kenny, a K-8 school where 100 percent of kids qualify for free lunches.

Corporations should look at this event as an opportunity to engage with people and become neighbors and partners instead of seeing them as just clients. There is no shame in being a millionaire or owning a corporation if, for example, you take ownership of a school and ask the principal, “What do you need?” or let a community organization into your doors and find out what you can do to help. It’s not about one race or another – anybody can be great because anybody can serve. King said: “If you want to make a difference, look around.”

What’s your relationship with Dr. King?

I think I was hearing about King in the womb. My dad and King were born the same year. In the early 1960s, King was a part of us. People of color had to turn to each other, not on each other. The black church represented a sanctuary for many, since King was a preacher. Justice was built into my DNA – At Will C. Wood Junior High School, there were a lot of fights between blacks, whites, Asians and Latinos. I would stand right between about 20 of my black friends and say, “You go through me before you go after my white friends,” and I wasn’t a big guy.

I tell my march volunteers: If you want to help promote King, you have to be King.

I can still remember the police dogs biting and the firehoses spraying protesters on the 6 o’clock news with Walter Cronkite. King represented hope even in the time of struggle. Good and evil, right and wrong is without color, even without class. King knew that and built this movement on that basic core belief that if you believe in God that has created all mankind, you’re going to believe the same things that move a person of color will move a white person.

How did you get involved in the King Day march in Sacramento?

An Asian woman, an African American woman and a Muslim woman recruited me. They said take over. I said we had to commit ourselves to one leader – no committees – and a 365-day mission. Every year we need to raise $50,000-$55,000 to cover everything: billboards, advertising, the rental of the Convention Center. I take no salary. My dad told me: “What you do 8 to 5 (is) for your family, for their table. You should praise someone for what they do before 8 and after 5.” That’s MLK time. My wife, Charlane, has been with me all along the way, as the silent director.

People approach me and say “my grandparents have walked, my dad and mom have walked.” You see three generations walking together. We have become the place to articulate the many different faces of King. When Oscar Grant was killed in Oakland in 2009, his supporters all came down to the march to seek justice. During Proposition 8, the gay and lesbian community came to the march. The Occupy movement came to the march. King would be very much a proponent of the immigration reform movement, of America as a place where people yearning to be free can come, and tell us we have to extend the same olive branch that we extended to the descendants of the pilgrims and slaves to Mexican, Asian and African immigrants.

Call The Bee’s Stephen Magagnini, (916) 321-1072.

Read more articles by Stephen Magagnini

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