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Before addressing the Martin Luther King Convocation at the Civic Auditorium Wendnesday night, Bob Jones took part in a seminar with students at Stevenson College. Jones is the president and founder of the Algebra Project which steers youth toward the sciences in school. (Dan Coyro/Sentinel)

SANTA CRUZ -- The Santa Cruz Civic Auditorium was filled Wednesday with people who believe the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s vision of racial equality is as important today as it was nearly 50 years ago when he gave his "I Have A Dream" speech.

An estimated 400 people attended UC Santa Cruz's 29th annual Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Convocation, an event headlined by Robert Moses, a leader of the American Civil Rights movement who went on to create an educational equity organization called the Algebra Project.

Other speakers included UC Santa Cruz Chancellor George Blumenthal and the Rev. Deborah L. Johnson of Inner Light Ministries in Soquel.

The soft-spoken Moses, 77, asked the audience to repeat the preamble of the U.S. Constitution aloud to spark thought about "what does the preamble do? Not what it says, but what does it do?"

In a speech laced with history reaching back 150 years to the Emancipation Proclamation, Moses said people should "take seriously the commitment the Constitution invites."

The struggle of eliminating inequality among different races and human suffering is "far from over," Moses said.

Watsonville resident Janna Rivas attended the memorial gathering with her 4-year-old son specifically to hear Moses speak.

"I want to be a teacher, so I think it will be so interesting to hear what he has to say," said Rivas, 26. "Absolutely, I think Martin Luther King's message is still important."


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San Jose resident Kim Chortek, watching her daughter perform in UCSC's gospel choir, said prejudice against minority races has improved in the past few decades. However, it's still a pressing concern in her mind.

"It's an issue that has not been resolved between blacks and whites or some other color," Chortek said. "We still need to work on it throughout the world. We are making progress."

The annual MLK event has also come to include the presentation of the Tony Hill Award for Community Service. Hill was a Santa Cruz resident and community activist who died of a heart attack in August 2007 at age 62.

Hill's wife Melanie Stern Hill and daughter Tara Kemp presented the 2013 award to Stephen Nelson.

Nelson was a homeless addict when he moved to Santa Cruz eight years ago. Now clean and sober, Nelson is said to be a skillful and inspiring leader at the Homeless Services Center in Santa Cruz.

He works as the center's overnight campus supervisor and leads groups of homeless in service projects that include cleanups of the San Lorenzo River levee.

Follow Sentinel reporter Shanna McCord on Twitter at Twitter.com/scnewsmom