Andre Phillips was watching TV with his parents and siblings in 1968 when a newscaster announced that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., had been shot and killed.
“I can remember the look on my parents’ face,” Phillips said. “Dr. King represented a race of people.”
Essay contest winners:
- Isabel Dabaco, Fifth grade, Larson Elementary School
- Lexie Walker, Sixth grade, Reese Elementary School
Phillips, principal of Stagg High School in Stockton, gave a history lesson Monday about what it was like to live in the South during the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s. He was the keynote speaker at the Lodi Breakthrough Project’s Celebration of Unity, an annual observance of King’s legacy.
Although Phillips grew up in San Jose, his father was from Pine Bluff, Ark. Phillips, who later became an Olympic Gold Medalist in track before becoming an educator, remembers his father’s stories about African-Americans being excluded from certain restaurants, restrooms and businesses in the South.
His message was targeted to students who are too young to know what conditions were like for African-Americans in the South. Among the students were the Vinewood Elementary School choir from Lodi and the McNair High choir from Stockton, who performed at the mid-day Martin Luther King observance.
Phillips said he admired his father for insisting, like King did, to judge people by their character, not the color of their skin.
“If there’s anyone who would hate all white people, it would be my father,” Phillips said.
But Phillips’ father told his children to not show prejudice.
Monday’s observance also gave the nearly 200 people attending the event an overview of what the Breakthrough Project and the need for new members.
The Breakthrough Project was created almost 15 years ago as a response by concerned Lodi residents to hate crimes committed in Lodi. The group was formed after the 1998 cross burning at Tokay High School.
The Breakthrough Project has a partnership with the Lodi Police Department, in which Breakthrough members meet with victims of hate crimes or racial slurs.
Police Chief Mark Helms said that the Breakthrough Project has spread Martin Luther King’s ideals.
The Breakthrough Project has improved the quality of Lodi’s character,” Helms said.
Contact reporter Ross Farrow at firstname.lastname@example.org.