Local author honors Martin Luther King Jr. | TheUnion.com

Local author honors Martin Luther King Jr.

Local author Bill Drake holds Martin Luther King Jr. Day event discussing his racist upbringing, and how he unlearned it.
Ivan Natividad/inatividad@theunion.com |

To celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. Day, local patrons attended a lecture by Nevada County activist Bill Drake, author of “Almost Hereditary: A White Southerner’s Journey Out of Racism, A Guide for Unlearning and Healing Prejudice.”

“He was a very profound visionary,” Drake said. “For me, he’s been a great inspiration in my life — his spiritual wisdom and great vision. He wasn’t just working for black people, he was working for all humankind. He wanted to create a just society, a beloved society and a fair world. His sense of seeing how we’re all connected was almost unheard of at that time.”

In honor of the great civil rights leader, Drake invited an audience of more than 70 to participate in a discussion about Drake’s own past as a young child of the South, describing how he broke away from the prejudiced upbringing his family raised him to believe.

“My mother was my link to white supremacy,” Drake said Monday night. “It was like she poisoned me with a poisoned apple, bite by bite by bite. The poison was so strong for me that as a young man I would say derogatory things to people in black neighborhoods.”

Held at 7 p.m. at the Unity in the Gold Country Spiritual Center in Grass Valley, the free event featured poems and readings from the diary of Drake’s great-great-grandmother, whose sons fought in the Civil War and owned slave plantations in Mississippi.

Jeannie Wood, executive director of the Community Asian Theatre of the Sierra, attended the event Monday night and said Drake’s lecture promoted diversity in the local community, something her organization supports.

“I think it’s great timing especially with the movie out now, ‘Selma,’” Wood said. “Everything is so timely and relevant with what the world is going through right now and in the United States … (Martin Luther King Jr.) was a leader and still is, and being Asian-American we ran on the coattails of what he paved for all of us.”

Grass Valley couple George and Barbara Dean said the speaking was a chance for them to relive their own personal experiences.

“I was stationed in Arlington, Va., during the ‘I have a dream speech,’” George Dean said. “I was inspired quite greatly during that time, and it was a very moving time and I still remain connected to it.”

“For me coming here is to honor Dr. King and to support the kind of things that are being done in our community to honor him, and also to look within ourselves to see what prejudices that are lurking there that we may not know are there,” Barbara Dean added.

Drake also gave attendees an opportunity to understand how the history behind prejudice in the United States relates to modern day discrimination.

“I think part of what I’d like to see is people be inspired. Inspired to work toward social justice,” said Drake. “To work towards countering prejudice, and have more of a sense of the past so they can relate it to the present. That’s really important and helpful at looking at what we do today.”

As the co-founder of Creating Communities Beyond Bias, a local group offering workshops for high school students related to unlearning prejudice,

Drake has taken a proactive approach to helping young kids understand ways to combat racist and prejudice inclinations by sharing his own experiences.

Nevada Union High School senior Grace Baker is a student leader of NU’s social justice group, which meets every Tuesday during lunchtime, to address concerns around prejudice on campus and in the community.

“It’s something that we should really face as a high school just at Nevada Union. I think that people should know about the roots of racism and changing those attitudes,” Baker said.

Baker added that Drake’s event helps to further the local conversation on race relations for people of all ages.

“The fact that some people think that racism doesn’t exist anymore is the main problem,” Baker said. “We need to notice that it still does exist and I think that it’s really important to see that people can overcome it and unlearn those behaviors. So I think this is a great way to open our eyes and learn and teach others to unlearn them.”

To contact Staff Writer Ivan Natividad, email inatividad@theunion.com or call 530-477-4236.

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