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Friday, January 17, 2003 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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King's dream still worth pursuing, daughter says

Times Snohomish County bureau

EVERETT — Yolanda King wants one thing to be perfectly clear.

"I am a 100 percent, dyed-in-the-wool, card-carrying believer in 'The Dream,' " she said. "It's a dream about freedom — freedom from oppression, from exploitation, from poverty ... the dream of a nation and a world where each and every child will have the opportunity to simply be the very best that they can be."

That dream, of course, is the dream of her late father, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. It's a dream the 47-year-old actress and activist spoke passionately about yesterday at Snohomish County's third annual King celebration.

The eldest daughter of the civil-rights leader spoke to more than 800 people gathered at the Everett Theatre to honor her father. Her speech culminated a 2-mile march with an estimated 200 people moving through Everett, picking up college students, community leaders and high-schoolers as they passed.

Yolanda King is an actress who has performed or lectured in 49 states and in Europe, Africa and Asia. She made her TV-series debut playing Judge Esther Green in the hit series "JAG" and was recently featured in Lifetime Television's "Any Day Now."

Her speech was grounded not in nostalgia, but in a tough-minded look at where we are today, on the eve of the 17th observation of the federal holiday commemorating her father's birthday. In a moving tribute, King described her parents as "modern-day architects for the strategies for achieving the dream."

"Martin Luther King made us look at ourselves honestly as a nation," she said. "Black, white, red, yellow, brown, rich and poor, and we began to transform and reorder the conditions of many of our communities. As African Americans, we threw off the feeling of inferiority that had shackled us; we pulled ourselves up, and demanded our God-given rights. As my father said, 'A man can't ride on your back unless it is bent.' "

Yet, in the United States of 2003, she said, "The disparity between the rich and the poor is widening, with more and more women, children and people of color living in poverty ...

"And as we continue to hear the call for war, let me remind you that my father warned us over 30 years ago that if we did not begin to reverse our priorities, make people more important than profits, peace more important than war, it would ultimately reflect on the very fiber of our society, and our communities, filtering into the lives of all of us. He said, and I quote, 'Any nation that continues, year after year, to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.' "

More than 70 countries commemorate her father's birthday in some fashion, she said.

But King noted that her father would be disappointed if the holiday were viewed as simply a day off to relax. It should be a day to act, she said. "He would want the day to be a day of deeds, not just lip service; reflection, not recreation; service, not shopping."

A Navy color guard opened the two-hour program at the Everett Theatre. It was sponsored by Snohomish County. Everett Mayor Frank Anderson invoked the Diversity Forum, a new initiative to listen to various viewpoints. Snohomish County Executive Bob Drewel spoke of the melting pot that strengthens nation.

Diane Wright: 425-745-7815 or dwright@seattletimes.com.

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