A light dusting of snow fell on the shoulders of the bronze statue of Martin Luther King Jr. outside Columbia Basin College on Monday as shivering spectators rang bells in memory of the slain civil rights leader.
A little boy -- Jaden Williams -- walked up and laid a bouquet of flowers at the statue's feet as part of an annual rite that goes back 22 years at the Pasco-based college.
"This ceremony is part of who we are at Columbia Basin College," said Martin Valadez, the college's vice president of diversity and outreach. "We, of course, are continuing the legacy of positive social change Dr. Martin Luther King began."
But King's dream of an equal American society remains unfulfilled despite progress in the 45 years since he was assassinated, speakers at CBC's event said.
After the bell-ringing, chilly temperatures in the 20s drove the crowd of about 300 indoors to the Byron Gjerde Center for jubilant gospel choir music, speeches honoring King and discussing the need to continue his work.
Keynote speaker Duke Mitchell, chairman of CBC's Board of Trustees, talked about how the Tri-Cities have grown and changed since 1968 -- a time when the population was about one-fifth what it is today, and when blacks still were mostly segregated from whites.
Mitchell said his family was one of only a handful living in Richland. Most black families lived in east Pasco.
"A few of us, maybe 10 to 15 families, lived in Richland closer to the Hanford site and the government-owned and operated bus system that ran to and from the Hanford 100 and 200 areas," he said. "That was if our father was able to get a full-time job working at the Hanford site, and if a government-owned house was available, and if we arrived before 1958 when the city was sold to the public."
Since then, black Tri-Citians have served in the military, become doctors, lawyers, judges, firefighters, police officers, teachers and school administrators, he said.
"But we as a nation and we as a people still have a long way to go before we can rest," he said.
The next challenges involve solving problems such as gun violence, crime, substance abuse, unemployment, poverty, and the nation's fiscal crises, Mitchell said.
He suggested that the actions minorities must take are to become better competitors in schools, workplaces and the marketplace.
He said minorities also must become more involved in careers in health care, science, technology, engineer and mathematics.
"These career areas are not for everyone, perhaps, but they are where the new and available jobs -- and dollars -- are going in an ever-increasing rate today and in the foreseeable future," Mitchell said.
His final suggestion is that Americans of all races and ethnicities need to be involved with issues they care about and work to make the nation better.
"This is our great nation -- all of ours -- and it is up to all of us to keep it great," he said.
Monday's event also included the presentation of this year's Martin Luther King Jr. Spirit Award to Susan Sparks, principal of Ruth Livingston Elementary School in Pasco.
Sparks said she and her family have attended the bell-ringing at CBC for years -- each year going to her mother-in-law's house so that her children could pick bells from their grandmother's collection to ring.
"To be honored here today is like living and being part of Dr. King's dream," she said.
-- Michelle Dupler: 582-1543; firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @mduplertch