BARSTOW - Although he spoke in Washington, D.C., over 40 years ago, Martin Luther King Jr.'s message of peace, service and equality was heard loud and clear in Barstow on Monday.

The Barstow Arts and Industrial Women's club hosted its 22nd annual peace breakfast as a tribute to King and his ideals. Community leaders of all faiths and races met to honor the work of the slain civil rights leader.

"He was for everybody. He wanted everybody to be free," said Shirley Lester, speaking to a crowd of more than 60 community members. "America is a country of opportunity, and he wanted everyone to share in that."

She challenged the crowd into following his example with service to the Barstow community, a message that was echoed by the club's guest speaker, Natasha Moore, the granddaughter of community activist Clara Jefferson. Jefferson died in 2006.

"Are you engaged to make a difference in Barstow? We need pillars in our community," Moore said. "Pillars are individuals committed to God. Pillars are steadfast. Pillars are committed and engaged."

She emphasized the role of faith in order to follow the example King set. She urged the crowd to serve God and to ignore those who do not seek peace.

"It's all or nothing," Moore said. "You need to choose this life every day. If they don't believe in your vision, let them go."

Attendees at the breakfast expressed their belief for that vision in song, singing "We Shall Overcome" in recognition of the struggle for equality.

Jeanette Dillard, an educator at Barstow High School, said that King's vision began with educating young people about equality.

"We have to be an example," she said. "We have to teach them love. Hate is a shared habit."
She spoke out against what she called a decline in good values and said drugs, violence, sex and other vices are to blame for society's ills.

"Now we're asking ourselves why our children have no conscience," she said. "It's because we reap what we sow."

For Louise Bell, the speakers at the breakfast represented King's ideals very well. Bell was present on Aug. 28, 1963, when King delivered his "I have a dream" speech from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. She said that the atmosphere in the crowd when King spoke was indescribable.

"It just did something for me," she said. "You just feel so incredible hearing that. You don't know you're looking at history being made."

Also during the breakfast, the club's president, Mary L. Hailey, took time to pay tribute to the memory of longtime African-American history advocate Annie Jo Shropshire. For many years, Shropshire opened home in February to teach visitors about African-American history. Shropshire died in October.

"She felt something good in Barstow. She opened her heart," Hailey said of Shropshire. "She opened her home to everyone."

Shropshires' daughter, Eboni Shropshire, said she will continue her mother's legacy.

"As long as there's breath in our bodies, we're going to give back to our community," she said.

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