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Last updated: Tue. Jan. 22, 2013 - 07:23 am EDT

MLK club celebrates 28th Unity Celebration

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In 1964, three murdered civil rights workers were found buried in an earthen dam near Philadelphia, Miss. In 2009 Philadelphia elected their first black mayor, James A. Young.

On Monday, Young was in Fort Wayne to give the keynote speech at the 28th annual Martin Luther King Jr. Unity Day Celebration at the Grand Wayne Center. Young grew up in Philadelphia and remembered the county as filled with interracial violence. He remembers how an African American men in Mississippi were all call the “N” word and at best referred to as “boys.”

It was his town that was featured in the 1988 movie “Mississippi Burning.” The movie told the story of the three murdered civil-rights workers and the subsequent trial in the small eastern-Mississippi town of 7,300 people.

Young has had many firsts in his life. He was the first black student in his sixth grade class in the mid-60's, he was the first emergency medical technician in the county, and he became the first black EMS director at the local hospital.

According to a 2009 New York Times story, Young, a former county supervisor, beat out a white incumbent by 46 votes to win the election for mayor. Young attributes his strength, determination and courage to God. He sees King's work as a role model for all to uphold and follow: to love one another regardless of race, the right for all people to share freedom and peace and to help those who are in need.

“Dr. Martin Luther King's sacrifice has allowed for the opportunities we have today,” Young said.

Young said he had a lot of friends who told him it wasn't the right time to run. But he ran anyway and won.

“One of my friends said you'll be mayor when hell freezes over and I said I guess we'll be skating down there now,” Young said.

Young said as far as they have come, there is still a long way to go. When President Obama was elected in 2008 people in his town said the world was coming to an end. In the schools, they refused to let the children watch the President's inaugural address. Then Obama was re-elected.

“Dr. Martin Luther King's sacrifice has allowed for the opportunities we have today,” Young said.

Young said he is stronger for his background, the memories of a time when men with badges would pull you from your car and demand to know where you were going. A time when you were told you were nothing and they wouldn't give you an opportunity.

Young said he will continue to fight the fight. The key word to remembering where he has been and how far things have come as he continues is “progress.”

Besides Young there were numerous gospel choir performances, a youth fest, gospel dancers, mimes, vendors, health screening and cash drawings. The MLK Club of Fort Wayne organized Monday's celebration.

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