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Arizona Marks King Day With Celebrations and Service

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January 16, 2012

PHOENIX - Arizonans will celebrate today's Martin Luther King, Jr. Day by marching through Phoenix and Mesa, but also by volunteering in the dining rooms of charities and picking up trash in parks.

Pastor Warren Stewart of First Institutional Baptist Church in Phoenix helped lead the multi-year fight for Arizona's King Holiday more than two decades ago. He says he has always considered the observance to be symbolic, but believes it is even more relevant in light of today's issues.

"Immigration reform, education, helping those who are at the bottom economic level: that's substance, and that's the kind of stuff Dr. King lived and preached about, and taught about and died for."

When the Arizona Legislature failed to approve a King holiday in 1986, then-Governor Bruce Babbitt established the holiday by executive order. In one of his first acts upon taking office in 1987, Governor Evan Mecham rescinded the King holiday ordered by his predecessor. Five years later, voters finally approved an Arizona Martin Luther King, Jr. paid holiday.

Pastor Stewart says King Day has evolved from primarily a day of celebration into a day when people volunteer to improve life in their communities.

"I see more and more that many public announcements are calling it not a 'day off' but a day of service. And we encourage people to help the downtrodden, the disadvantaged, those who are in need, as well as celebrate what Dr. King lived and died for."

Pastor Stewart will again join the Phoenix King Day March when it steps off this morning from Pilgrim Rest Missionary Baptist Church in the downtown area.

Doug Ramsey, Public News Service - AZ