OAKLAND -- Like many other students her age who gathered to celebrate the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr., Munirah Harris, a sophomore at Oakland Tech, learned about the history of the slain civil rights leader's struggle to dismantle a stark, malicious and terrifying system of racial and economic injustice.

History books illustrate the marches and the sacrifices and reproduce sections of King's 1963 "Letter from a Birmingham Jail." But the history lesson of the civil rights movement King led usually stops with his death on April 4, 1968.

"The problems aren't over," said Harris, 15, as she gathered at McClymonds High School with other members of the community to honor the work and legacy of King, 85 years after his birth. "Some of the same issues are here today."

People around the Bay Area spent the holiday at celebrations and community service-themed events to honor King. Several hundred gathered at Monday's 16th annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day National Holiday Celebration in West Oakland -- sponsored by Attitudinal Healing Connection and other community organizations.

When asked to compare the problems they face to those faced by King's generation, Harris said violence, gangs and racism top the list.

Navigating the world today is difficult, McClymonds Principal Tinishi Hamberli told the crowd of several hundred. Echoing the theme of this year's event, she encouraged them to help "make the dream real."


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"Justice must be demanded, it does not happen on its own," said keynote Speaker Shakti Butler, a filmmaker who founded World Trust, whose mission is to eliminate racial injustice through education.

For many students, just feeling safe at school is an issue, said Jasmine Jones of the Black Organizing Project, the umbrella organization for projects such as Bettering Our School System, or BOSS.

So far, BOSS has introduced a complaint policy in schools in the Oakland Unified District, where nearly three-quarters of the 85 students arrested by school police were African-American, according to data from the district and Oakland police gathered by the organization.

The fear of police harassment is something that young black people carry with them inside and outside school, said Joevonte Kelly, 21, who is part of BOSS.

"That goes for all kids my age," he said.

Jones said the Black Organizing Project draws on King's strategies, spiritual and practical. On the spiritual side, they are building a movement through compassion and love.

"We don't want to fight," she said. "We're not about violence."

But they also learned from King's powerful skills as a community organizer who used protests, grass-roots organizing and civil disobedience to achieve the goals of the Civil Rights movement, which was inseparable for King from economic justice.

King is best remembered for the March for Jobs and Freedom, most commonly remembered as the "March on Washington." There on the National Mall in front of a quarter-million people, King delivered the historic "I Have a Dream" speech.

That march and several others led to the passage of the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act.

But King also launched the "Poor Peoples Campaign" to advocate for economic justice.

"We developed a community vision about what we wanted to see in the world," Jones said. "We need all people at the table."