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King's Legacy in Prayer, Song

Celebration: Irvine's oldest and largest black church brings together a multiethnic crowd at the Marriott to honor the civil rights leader.

January 21, 2002|KIMI YOSHINO | TIMES STAFF WRITER

A typical conference room at the Irvine Marriott seemed an unlikely spot for a celebration honoring the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., but there it was Sunday morning: Members of the Christ Our Redeemer African Methodist Episcopal Church clasping hands and singing "We Shall Overcome."

Somehow the location felt right.

It doesn't matter where church is, said the Rev. Mark Whitlock, because God hears prayers everywhere--even at the Marriott. And on Sunday, the assassinated civil rights leader probably would have been proud to see the multiethnic, multicultural congregation gathered to honor him in a city that is predominantly white and less than 2% African American.

"It is time for us to stop being colorblind and to start being color rich," Whitlock said. "Despite Enron, despite Osama bin Laden, despite the Ku Klux Klan, despite the other entities that will preach hate, we must learn to love each other despite our differences."

Whitlock delivered a rousing sermon, "The Living Legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.," before about 150 people who normally gather for worship in a UC Irvine lecture hall. The service included performances by a 20-member band and choir, whose hand-clapping and swelling voices made it seem much larger.

Whitlock reminded the congregation--Irvine's oldest and largest black church--of the sacrifices King made and the tools he used to further his message--song, suffering, service and "good soil" (faith and belief in God).

He peppered the sermon with quotes from King: "Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that."

Whitlock closed his remarks with a slide and audio presentation that included photos of King along with excerpts of his speeches and music.

It moved Frank Barner, 55, of Tustin to tears.

"I was thinking of all the things I've personally been through," Barner said. "It just caught me, and I felt very full. It's just very emotional for me."

Reflecting on King's legacy, Barner said, "There's so many things we would not have."

Barner recalled when he first moved to Orange County in 1973 and was searching for a place to live. He called apartment complexes, and managers would say there was space available.

But when he arrived to fill out an application, the managers would tell him they had nothing available. "We have a lot to be thankful for," Barner said. "We've come a long, long way."

In a scholarship luncheon after the service, about 250 people gathered to recognize Orange County Sheriff Mike Carona as "Man of the Year" and UCI student Tenisha Powers, winner of a church-sponsored essay contest entitled "A Vision Beyond a Crisis."

Powers wrote that King's teachings are particularly relevant as suspicions and hate crimes rose against people of Arab descent following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

This is the third year the church has handed out scholarships. Last year, it awarded $5,000. This year, church officials hope the amount will grow to $15,000.

Bobby McDonald, president of the Black Chamber of Commerce of Orange County, said the chamber, the church and the Newport-Mesa-Irvine Interfaith Council sponsored the event to increase public awareness of King and to show that today's holiday is for everyone, not just African Americans.

"His promissory note was for all--life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness for everyone," McDonald said.

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