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MID-WILSHIRE : Youths to Join March on Washington '93

August 22, 1993|JAKE DOHERTY

On Aug. 28, 1963, hundreds of thousands of Americans converged on Washington to demand passage of civil rights legislation, a seminal moment in the long struggle against racism fixed in the nation's memory by Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech.

Thirty years later, 16 teen-agers from the Bresee Youth Center will travel by bus from Los Angeles, a city grappling with the unfulfilled legacy of King's clarion call for justice and brotherhood, across the South and on to the nation's capital to join in the anniversary celebration of the March on Washington.

"I want to be a part of history and be able to tell my children and grandchildren about it someday," said John Escobar, 17, one of the participants who will make the 11-day trip.

Jeff Carr, executive director of the Mid-Wilshire center, said the group will make stops at the Memphis, Tenn., motel where King was assassinated, the King Center for Nonviolent Social Change and other sites to learn about the history of the civil rights movement.

But the high point of the trip is likely to be Saturday's march to the Lincoln Memorial.

To be selected for the trip, the youths wrote essays about why they wanted to join the march. For Cheryl Bookman, 17, it will be a chance to pay homage to those who made sacrifices for her generation.

"By me being a young African-American, I will make a big decision in my life to stand on the streets of Washington, D.C., to thank those of the '60s who made a difference for my parents and myself," she wrote. "I want to march to show my appreciation to the black men and women of the '60s who made a difference for the black men and women of the '90s."

Asked about the state of civil rights today in light of the videotaped beating of Rodney G. King, Escobar said: "Back then, if someone beat up a black person, they got away with it. Now you can do something about it."

Charles Gillett, 17, agreed. "Back then, you had no say," he said.

Researching the original march also taught Gillett a lesson about the possibilities of inter-ethnic solidarity. "We didn't know that Jews and Hispanics marched with King," he said.

It is a lesson many of the members of the Bresee group have learned, but one that older people often fail to grasp, said Maria Lopez, 15.

"We need to judge each other from the inside, not the outside," she said.

Lopez said she has some advice for President Clinton, who plans to address the marchers. "I'd tell him to spend some time in this neighborhood or in South-Central," she said. "He doesn't know for real what it's like here."

March organizers told Carr that as of last week, the Bresee group was the only organized delegation from Los Angeles.

Carr said he is still seeking help to defray the costs of the trip. Just before their scheduled departure Friday , Carr and his staff had raised about $3,000 of $5,000 they hoped to raise for the trip.

With the youths chipping in $50 each, Carr said he would worry about raising the rest of the money later. One way or another, the 25-seat "Freedom Bus" will make it to Washington, decorated with collages commemorating distinguished African-American figures and the civil rights movement, he said.

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