Growing up in Monroe during the race riots of the early 1970s had a profound effect on Manuel Mendez.
The pervasive racism swirling around the country and his hometown was hard for Mendez to grasp.
“I had white friends who did not judge me for the color of my skin,” Mendez said. “And my black friends did not judge others, either.”
It was during this time Mendez realized what Martin Luther King Jr. meant by judging others “not by their skin, but for the content of their character.”
On Tuesday afternoon Mendez presented “I Have a Dream, Revisited” in the atrium of the La-Z-Boy Center.
“It doesn’t matter where you fall politically,” Mendez said. “I’m here to celebrate Dr. King.”
The Monroe High School graduate began his presentation channeling King.
“I was born January 15, 1929, and ever since I was a little boy, I was impressed by words,” Mendez said, speaking as if he were King. “One day I was gonna get me some big words.”
He then spoke of King’s life, the whole time utilizing the oratorical devices the civil rights icon was famous for.
Mendez talked about the first time King realized his color made him different – when he was told “little white boys don’t play with little black boys.”
King ran to his mother sobbing and confused.
“You’re as good as anyone else,” Mendez said, quoting Alberta Williams King. “And don’t you forget it.”
The highlight of the event was a stirring rendition of “I Have a Dream.”
The experience of hearing the speech was profound for some in attendance.
“The spoken word is very powerful,” said MCCC’s Upward Bound Academic Skills Coordinator Charles Friedline. “To sit here and actually hear the words – I have a lump in my throat.”
Mendez said he was glad the spirit and passion of King connected with those in attendance.
“Keep your dream alive,” Mendez said. “Keep your passion alive.”