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RACINE — On what would have been Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s 90th birthday, Racine residents and local leaders came together Tuesday at the intersection of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Drive and State Street to honor the martyred civil rights activist’s legacy.

Led in prayer and song by pastors and local elementary-school students, the crowd of about 100 people celebrated as they laid a wreath in front of the statue of King in the plaza at the intersection.

In attendance at the noontime ceremony were students from 21st Century Preparatory School and Evergreen Academy, Racine Mayor Cory Mason, Racine County Executive Jonathan Delagrave, Racine Police Chief Art Howell and Alderman John Tate II, among others.

Tate told the crowd that despite the reverence with which many people treat King and his message of equality, “we cannot ignore the reality” that there is still significant racial disparity in Racine. Tate went on to cite a study by 24/7 Wall St. that last November named Racine the third-worst city for black Americans based on factors such as income inequality and high black unemployment.

“The prerequisite to hope, I believe, is the acknowledgment of reality,” Tate said. “One cannot hope for a better future while also denying the present reality.”

Mason said it was important to recognize how King helped people learn “how to care for one another, to think about one another and work collectively to improve the lives of our community.”

The event was organized and hosted by Lisa Parham, owner of the Racine Mirror and Racine Insider newspapers. Parham herself was brought to tears by a solo vocal performance by Pastor Joseph Thomas.

“I’m a little emotional because Dr. King fought for us,” Parham said. “And as I reflect, being an entrepreneur and a business owner myself, had it not been for Dr. Martin Luther King, I probably wouldn’t have the opportunity to stand here today.”

“The prerequisite to hope, I believe, is the acknowledgment of reality. One cannot hope for a better future while also denying the present reality.” Racine Alderman John Tate II

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Jonathon Sadowski covers the villages of Union Grove and Yorkville, the Town of Dover, arts, entertainment and odds and ends for The Journal Times.

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