Martin Luther King Jr.'s son is coming to Richmond on a journey his father had planned just prior to his assassination.

Martin Luther King III is in the midst of a 50-city Poverty in America Tour to document the effects of subsistence living. He will spend three days touring troubled neighborhoods and interviewing residents, community organizers and city leaders. The ultimate goal of the tour is to persuade Congress to take action against the poverty that persists in hundreds of American cities.

"Once he's gathered information from the people in these cities, he will come forth with initiatives in Congress to address the root causes of poverty," said Richmond tour coordinator Dexter Vizinau.

King will address the Richmond City Council tonight, and on Thursday he will share his findings during a town hall meeting in the Richmond Memorial Auditorium.

The 50-city tour is the fulfillment of a trip King's father was planning when he was assassinated April 4, 1968. The elder King was a leading figure in the struggle for civil rights during the 1960s, and his son's visit has deep meaning to many Richmond residents who regard him as the living embodiment of his father's dream of a socially just world free of racism and discrimination.

Richmond has some of the most impoverished and violent neighborhoods in the state, and some say King's visit has given residents a sense of hope.


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"His trip to Richmond is so important on so many different fronts," said Ken Nelson, president of the Richmond National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. "His coming to Richmond to listen to people means that change can happen for people who have suffered from poverty for generation after generation."

The Rev. Andre Shumake, president of the Richmond Improvement Association, said his organization of multidenominational churches is based on the elder King's model for the Montgomery Improvement Association.

"To be able to walk the streets with his namesake will be an incredible experience for me personally," Shumake said. "For Richmond residents, it's critical because his visit will elevate long-standing issues to a national level."

The tour is recording impoverished conditions across ethnic and racial lines, Vizinau said. King most recently documented conditions on an American Indian reservation in rural Kentucky.

On Thursday, King will conduct a series of interviews with elected officials, including Contra Costa County Supervisor John Gioia, Richmond Mayor Gayle McLaughlin, Councilwoman Ludmyrna Lopez and Councilman Harpreet Sandhu. He also will interview West Contra Costa Unified School District board member Audrey Miles.

Contact John Geluardi at 510-262-2787 or at jgeluardi@cctimes.com

if you go

WHAT: Richmond City Council meeting

WHEN: 7 p.m. today

WHERE: Richmond City Council Chamber, 1401 Marina Way South, Richmond

WHAT: Town hall meeting with Martin Luther King III

WHEN: 7 p.m., Thursday

WHERE: Richmond Memorial Auditorium, 403 Civic Center Plaza