SAN BERNARDINO - The Rev. Dennis Brown stood at a microphone at the library, his upturned hands extended in a pleading gesture.
"Come stand up with me against injustice," he said, channeling Martin Luther King Jr.
The words came easily. Powerfully.
A pastor at San Bernardino's Miracle Deliverance Full Gospel Church, Brown is an orator, vocalist and guitarist.
And on a recent night, he brought those talents to the Feldheym Central Library, where Brown performed "The Voice of King," with speeches and music from the civil-rights movement.
It's a touring performance formed from a life inspired by the slain civil rights leader who's 84th birthday is celebrated today across the nation.
Born and raised in Los Angeles, the son and nephew of pastors, the 64-year-old Brown was 15 when he started watching King's speeches on television.
"I would tear up when I heard him," Brown said.
He said he heard "the call" to preach while reciting the speeches of King and has been in the evangelical field ever since.
Brown presents his King programs at lcoal schools and at military installations.
On Tuesday, the night before the library performance, he presented a program to troops at Fort Bragg, N.C.
As he re-enacted those speeches at the San Bernardino library on Wednesday, Brown was joined by a three-piece band performing music of the era.
His powerful baritone rendition of "Abraham, Martin and John" evoked an emotional response from a sparse but tuned-in audience: "Anybody here seen my old friend, Martin. Please tell me where he's gone. He freed a lot of people, but the good they die young - I looked around and he was gone."
Although the local pastor did not study King's mannerisms, he was able to tap into what he calls "a realm of spirituality."
Brown said he could hear his voice change listening to one of his early recordings a King speeches.
And that voice has come to inspire others to learn about King's message through Brown.
Linda Yeh, library program coordinator, said Brown's presentation moved the entire audience.
"It has a lot of impact to learn history first-hand like that - rather than reading about it in a book," she said. "He made the program so emotional."
Brown drew from a collection of King's speeches - his speech about Rosa Parks in Montgomery, Ala; the speech after Bloody Sunday in Selma, Ala.; the "We Shall Overcome" speech.
King used to get hundreds of threatening phone calls and letters but he never changed or waivered from his message of love and peaceful protest, Brown said.
King called for equality - that all people - deserved to be treated the same. No separate entrances, separate drinking fountains, restrooms. No separate lines to buy a hamburger.
Brown recalled that when he was a teenager from California visiting his grandfather in rural Arkansas, blacks and whites traded with each other. But in the city it was different.
"In Texarkana, I started to go into a hamburger place through the front door and my grandfather said we had to go through the back door."
The man flipping hamburgers asked him if he liked it in Arkansas and Brown said no.
"`Didn't your grandfather tell you how it was here?"' the man asked.
Brown marked the 50th anniversary of King's "I
Brown went on:
"So in spite of the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: `We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal.' Let freedom ring."
Cindy Hightower of Fontana said the program brought back memories of when she was a little girl.
"We moved around a lot because my father was in the Air Force," she said. "I remember when Dr. Martin Luther King was assassinated. I was small, but my mom was crying and I saw my dad cry for the first time in his life.
"This was a really good program."
Reach Michel via email, find her on Twitter @michelnolan, or call her at 909-386-3859.