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Honoring a spiritual and political leader

Local celebrations mark the birthday of Martin Luther King Jr. and offer occasions to reflect on his vision for peace and racial unity.

"Mosaic of Culture: Yes, We Can!" is the theme for a Medford tribute to King sponsored by the Medford MLK Task Force and the Multicultural Association of Southern Oregon. The event will be from 2 to 4 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 16, in the auditorium at the old South Medford High School, 815 S. Oakdale Ave.

Ashland's annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day celebration, with the theme of "Civil Rights and Civil Discourse," is set for noon to 1:30 p.m. Monday, Jan. 17, at the Historic Ashland Armory, 208 Oak St.

Medford's celebration will open with remarks by emcee Nicole Vilencia of KZEE FM 106.3 and Medford Mayor Gary Wheeler. A showcase of local talent will follow, including Sakura Bon Dance Group, Rogue Ringers Handbell Choir, WickedFX Dance Crew, Ballet Folklóroco Ritmo Alegre, Michelle Bellamy and her Rogue Fam Jam, Kent Heyward and his Living on Dreams Band, Kids Unlimited's Project Life and more.

Youth activist Michelle Glass and Pastor David Gomez will be recognized for their work as community leaders with the Medford MLK Task Force's "I Have a Dream Award."

Refreshments will be provided, and donations of nonperishable food will be accepted for ACCESS Food Share.

Ashland's celebration will feature keynote speaker Magdaleno Rose-Avila of the Social Justice Fund in Seattle.

Life as a migrant worker at age 11 gave Rose-Avila the drive to support workers' rights. He organized workers in Colorado and eventually became a spokesman for Cesar Chavez's United Farm Workers Union. He also was a leading voice in the Chicano movement that emerged during the civil rights era. He has been a director in the U.S. Peace Corps, worked for the Democratic National Committee, Colorado Legal Services and the Colorado Migrant Council, and taught sociology at the University of Colorado at Boulder and Colorado College in Colorado Springs.

From 1985 to 1993, Rose-Avila held positions for the Nobel Peace Prize-winning human rights organization Amnesty International USA.

D.L. Richardson, communication department chairman at Southern Oregon University, will emcee the event. The ceremony will offer a variety of speakers, dance and poetry, including David and Gabe Young, Las Colibri, Liquid Fire Mantra, Natalie Tyler and students from the Ashland School District and SOU. Donations of nonperishable food items will be accepted.

Ashland TV will provide a simultaneous broadcast of the ceremony at Culture Works, 310 Oak St., where the Peace Choir will perform.

A march to the Ashland Plaza will follow the ceremony, led by Lotus Rising Teen Theater. King's speech, "I Have a Dream," will be played at the Plaza.

As an American clergyman and an active civil rights leader in the '50s and '60s, King conceived a caring, compassionate world where people of all races, religions and cultures lived together as one family.

A Baptist minister, King led the Montgomery Bus Boycott in Alabama in 1955. It was a nonviolent protest opposing the city's policy of racial segregation on its public transit system. It began when a black woman named Rosa Parks was arrested for refusing to give up her seat to a white person. It ended in 1956 when a federal ruling declared Alabama's segregation laws unconstitutional.

King's civil rights movement was aimed at outlawing racial discrimination and restoring voting rights in Southern states. Its efforts led to the 1963 March on Washington, where King delivered his "I Have a Dream" speech. The event expanded America's vision of a color blind society and established King's reputation as a strong public speaker.

In 1964, King became the youngest person to receive the Nobel Peace Prize for his work to end racial segregation and racial discrimination through civil disobedience and other nonviolent means. By the time of his assassination in 1968, he had refocused his efforts on ending poverty and stopping the Vietnam War.

He was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1977 and Congressional Gold Medal in 2004. Martin Luther King Jr. Day was established as a U.S. federal holiday in 1986.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. speaks in Eutaw, Ala., in June 1965. King was head of the Southern Christian Leadership Coalition and a Nobel Peace Prize winner. - AP