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LIers head to D.C. to mark 50 years since King's 'Dream' speech

Gladys Andrews and her daughter Kai, 24, hold

Gladys Andrews and her daughter Kai, 24, hold a t-shirt picturing Martin Luther King, Jr. and President Barack Obama. (Aug. 22, 2013) Credit: Barry Sloan

Hundreds of Long Islanders plan to travel to Washington, D.C., before dawn Saturday for the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington -- the large, peaceful gathering where the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. made his famous "I Have a Dream" speech at the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.

They will represent a range of age groups, races, religions and sexual orientations, united in the belief that despite the progress in the 50 years after King's seminal speech, economic and social inequities remain.

"We have seen history realized in so many different ways with the two-time election of President Barack Hussein Obama," said Melvin Harris Jr., 48, of Uniondale, a political director for the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1056, who is going to the march. "But at the same time we have seen Martin Luther King Jr.'s dream eviscerate in certain areas like . . . racial profiling in New York City where over 160,000 people were stopped and frisked."

The "50th Anniversary National Action to Realize the Dream March" is an effort to bring diverse groups together and raise awareness on unemployment, poverty, immigration, gay rights and other issues, rallyers say.

Theresa Sanders, president and CEO of Urban League of Long Island, said the original march was successful because it was "a poor people's campaign."

"You had a lot of immigrants -- Italian, Irish -- . . .you had a lot of different cultural groups involved in that march 50 years ago," she said. "This is not just a black thing. This is a march about inequities and injustice . . . Anybody can relate to those issues."Many of those making the trip from Long Island said a look at headlines from recent weeks is proof that much needs to be done. The shooting death of unarmed 17-year-old Trayvon Martin, "stand your ground" laws, and the Supreme Court ruling that struck down a key part of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, have galvanized attendees, said Tracey Edwards, Long Island regional director of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

"When you have national efforts underway to undo the accomplishments that have been made in voters rights, it makes you understand that you can't just celebrate the progress, you have to vigorously ensure that progress continues," she said. "Everyone wants their children's children to have more of an opportunity than they had."

Gladys Andrews, 64, plans to attend the march with her daughter, Kai, 24, departing from Union Baptist Church in Hempstead.

"There may be some on that bus who were there 50 years ago, and I think for my daughter, it's an education for her to hear some of those experiences," said Andrews.

Kai Andrews, a second-degree nursing student at Villanova University, said she is excited to have a "firsthand account" of the march.

"I always felt like as an African-American, I represented my race. . . . Even when I was on the train, I had to bring a book with me, so people wouldn't think that I was up to no good," she said, adding that she hopes to hear of possible solutions that she can share with her classmates.

Diana Feige, 62, of Huntington, an education professor at Adelphi University, said she hoped to take away "a sense of community" that she could bring back to students, since she was only 12 years old and living in Puerto Rico at the time of the original march.

"There's an enormous amount of caring about building a better world from the college students," said Feige, who is also concerned about poverty and access to education. "You only have to go to schools, go to neighborhoods, go to institutions to see who's employeed and see that the disparities still exist. The laws are still on the books, but the disparities in everyday existence are still tragically real."

Several other groups have chartered buses, including the Civil Service Employees Association Local 1000, Urban League of Long Island and National Action Network Nassau County Chapter.Edward Drummond, a retired laboratory manager at Stony Brook University Medical Center who also attended the march 50 years ago, said equal access to education is a chief issue.

"We seem to be cutting back on public education. I think that is very dangerous," said Drummond, of Central Islip. "Change does not come easily, and if you sit back and say nothing, then you're endorsing what's happening."

Some said their members were carpooling, including the Long Island Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Services Network.

David Kilmnick, the group's CEO, said that the legalization of same-sex marriage in 13 states is an accomplishment, but more change is necessary.

"The fight for civil rights is one that we have to be in for the long term, by all of our communities banding together," he said. "I'm confident that 50 years from now, it will be a big celebration in Washington, D.C., that hopefully we've reached that dream of full economic equality and social justice under the law."

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