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Organizers of the inaugural Martin Luther King Jr celebration at last year’s breakfast. Photo: Berkeley Chamber of Commerce
Organizers of the inaugural Martin Luther King Jr celebration at last year’s breakfast. Photo: Berkeley Chamber of Commerce

When Reverend Leslie White came to Berkeley at the end of 2009 to lead the St. Paul African Methodist Episcopal Church, he did the natural thing for a newly arrived community leader: he spoke to colleagues, officials, neighbors to get a sense of “Berkeley culture, celebrations, whatever. I wanted to know what was going on ecumenically,” he said.

Although White found plenty of landmarks in the Berkeley calendar, he was surprised that there was nothing specifically to celebrate Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. He found common cause with another new arrival at the time — Berkeley police chief Michael Meehan — and the Martin Luther King Jr. Awards Breakfast was born. The inaugural breakfast was held last year, and this year’s celebration will be at 7:30 a.m. on Monday, Jan. 21 at the DoubleTree Hotel at Berkeley Marina. 

“We wanted a celebration of Dr. King that would be comprehensive, diverse, and touch on the whole community,” White said.

This year’s breakfast also coincides with President Barack Obama’s second inauguration, which will be live-streamed during the gathering.

White said the organizers focused on a breakfast as a celebration so that the growing tradition of using Martin Luther King, Jr. Day as a day of service would not be disrupted.

“It gets in and it gets out, and those who are involved in different projects can have breakfast and go out and be inspired to do more,” he said.

“We are seeking to promote the mission and legacy that Dr. King himself embraced,” White said. “He embraced a legacy of making life better for all. We don’t try to do pomp and circumstance. We try to have good fellowship and good community in action. We’re seeding the next generation, and if this one day can expose just one person, that one day can really make a difference like a ripple on a pond.”

Tickets for the breakfast are $22, and are available from the breakfast website. The breakfast is from 7:30 to 9:30 a.m. on Monday, Jan. 21, at the DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel, 200 Marina Boulevard, Berkeley. Berkeleyside is a media sponsor of the celebration.

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Lance Knobel (Berkeleyside co-founder) has been a journalist for nearly 40 years. Much of his career was in business journalism. He was editor-in-chief of both Management Today, the leading business magazine...