Community marches in unity for 17th annual Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration Day  • Paso Robles Press

Camille DeVaul

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Paso Robles High School students boycott event due to keynote speaker

PASO ROBLES — The City Park was filled as it welcomed the community to celebrate the 17th annual Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration Day on Monday, Jan. 15, in Paso Robles. 

Chair of the Martin Luther King Jr. Committee Lovella Walker welcomed the turnout. 

“I was very pleased and humbled with the turnout for the Unity Walk and the event,” she said. “Seeing the crowd grow to standing room only made all the effort worth it.”

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Martin Luther King Jr. Committee Lovella Walker addresses the crowd during the Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration Day on Monday, Jan. 15, at City Park. Photo by Camille DeVaul

The celebration began with a unity walk around downtown Paso Robles and was followed with pizza, dance performances, and speeches. However, some planned performances were canceled due to some groups boycotting the event’s keynote speaker, Laurene McCoy. 

Walker was able to confirm that some Paso Robles High School (PRHS) students backed out of performing at the event, but no further information could be provided. 

However, McCoy, who is on her second year as a Paso Robles Joint Unified School District (PRJUSD) board trustee, was not deterred. 

“I felt honored and so excited that they asked me [to be keynote speaker],” she said. “Martin Luther King Jr. has always been someone that I looked up to and quote often. To be part of such a monumental event brought me pure joy.” 

Community members march together in City Park during the the Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration Day on Monday, Jan. 15. Photo by Camille DeVaul

McCoy, a Bearcat who graduated in 2003, is currently serving the community as a full-time family life pastor for a local church. According to her trustee biography on pasoschools.org, she is working towards “a solid education and strong parental engagement are vital to the well-being of our students. Laurene wants our students to get the most out of their education while learning how to function in the real world.”

While it could not be confirmed why the students chose to boycott the event on Monday, some social media posts accused McCoy running her campaign following the ideals of the “Moms for Liberty” group. The nationwide nonprofit organization says their mission is “dedicated to fighting for the survival of America by unifying, educating and empowering parents to defend their parental rights at all levels of government.”

Paso Robles Press did reach out to the Paso Robles Joint Unified School District (PRJUSD) but did not receive a response at the time of printing this story.

Those filling the 100 seats set out in the park and many more to listened to speeches from McCoy and others. Paso Robles Mayor John Hamon, PRHS football coach Matt Carroll, and Pastor Gary Jordan took to the podium to share their sentiments of the meaning of the celebration.

“My takeaway was people are listening and learning,” added Walker. “A spectator pointed out to me that he wasn’t aware of some of the history about MLK, or that we have a Black national anthem, nor was he aware of a lot of the struggle Blacks have gone through. He affirmed he was fascinated and wanted to learn more. So, he will likely attend another MLK celebration in the future.”

The God Squad Dance Crew gave two performances at the celebration, captivating the audience. The dance group has participated in the event for many years. Additionally, elementary school students engaged in a button-making competition, while middle school students took part in a T-shirt artwork contest. High schoolers participated in an artwork contest, with the victor earning a $100 gift card. Walker emphasized that these contests aim to educate local youth about Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Black history by involving them in a combination of history and art competitions.

Andrea Franklin (left) and Gorgana Fourl show their support for King’s legacy during the Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration Day on Monday, Jan. 15, at City Park. Photo by Camille DeVaul

In reflecting on the significance of the MLK celebration, Walker said, “There is work to be done in order for us to become more united as a community and realize we are better and stronger together. An essential part of the MLK celebration is meant to bring communities together to learn the history of the Black race with the hope of preventing history from repeating itself.”

In the end, McCoy said she hopes the audience values unity, embraces differences with kindness, engages in conversations, and contributes collectively to city prosperity. 

“I hope that the audience realizes the importance of us being unified, not always having to agree on everything but to treat one another with love and kindness,” she said. “Start talking to that person that may make you feel uncomfortable. It could be that you just need to have a conversation and get to know them. I also hope the audience left knowing that we all need each other to help our city prosper.”

Feature Image: Keynote speaker Laurene McCoy gives her speech during the Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration Day on Monday, Jan. 15, at City Park. Photo by Camille DeVaul



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2024-01-18 19:00:00 , Paso Robles Press

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