LONG BEACH - Martin Luther King Jr.'s dream came to life Sunday as followers of nine different religions gathered at a church for an interfaith celebration marking the civil rights leader's birthday.
About 100 people, including religious leaders, attended the 21 st annual Community-Wide Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Interfaith Celebration at Gospel Memorial Church of God in Christ, 1480 Atlantic Ave. The celebration was organized by the Long Beach-based South Coast Interfaith Council, the oldest and largest interfaith council in Southern California, serving 35 cities in Los Angeles and Orange counties.
The program include participation from nine faiths: Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Buddhist, Hindu, Sikh, Baha'i, Native American and Brahma Kumaris.
"We are an illustration of Martin Luther King Jr.'s dream coming to life," said Milia Islam-Majeed, executive director of the South Coast Interfaith Council
"This celebration marks the community coming together as one," she said.
Islam-Majeed, who is in her fifth year as the organization's executive director, also is the first non-Christian leader in the group's 60-year history.
In 1953, the organization was established as an ecumenical council, comprised only of churches representing various Christian denominations. But in 2004, the council changed from ecumenical to interfaith.
Sunday's keynote speaker was Edina Lekovic, director of policy and programming at the Los Angeles-based advocacy group Muslim Public Affairs Council. Lekovic is the first Muslim in the celebration's 20-year history to deliver the keynote address.
"Having Edina as our keynote speaker shows the diversity of the community," Islam-Majeed said.
Previous speakers include Buddhist monk Tenzin Priyadarshi in 2010, and, in 2011, Deborah Sanchez of the Barbareno Chumash Council, a tribal group representing Chumash descendants whose ancestors lived in the Santa Barbara area.
During her keynote address, Lekovic said King's message of racial, ethnic and religious harmony is more relevant than ever.
She encouraged audience members to "embrace the fierce urgency of now," a quote from his "Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence" speech. He delivered it in April 1967, a year before he was assassinated.
In the speech, King argued that civil rights and world peace are interwoven.
Lekovic urged her captive listeners to "know one another, know the people next to you, your neighbors and co-workers. Know more than their name. Spend time getting to know their story.
"Our biggest challenge is to step outside our comfort zone, across faith lines," she said. "We must embrace the urgency of now."
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