By Stephen Magagnini | OBSERVER Editor-In-Chief

Keynote speaker Crystel Patterson, a technology consultant by day, talks about her passion for writing children’s books. Patterson is author of the “Inspired To Be” books series. Russell Stiger Jr., OBSERVER

An all-star lineup of community leaders, activists, students, parents, educators  

and public officials were recognized at the 23rd annual MLK Jr. Dinner Celebration at Sac State March 26. The event was originally scheduled to be held Feb. 5, but because of the COVID surge, organizers rescheduled for the March date.

“These past two years have challenged us as a community, country and world,” said Vince Miles, President of the celebration committee. “Our collective patience has been tested on many issues; sometimes we forget the lessons learned from the past…the fight for equality continues.”

Former Sacramento Police Chief Daniel Hahn, center, is congratulated by MLK Jr. Dinner organizers Vince Miles, left, and Michael Alcalay, right. Russell Stiger Jr., OBSERVER

Two people who have been part of that fight for more than half a century, James and Mertie Shelby, received the 2022 Robert T. Matsui Community Service Award. For nearly 20 years, James served as the transformative CEO of the Greater Sacramento Urban League and served as Mayor of Citrus Heights; equally impactful was his wife Mertie who was a dedicated teacher and school administrator.

Shelby, 74, told the audience, “When people told me as a Black man that I couldn’t raise $5 million for a building, that gave me more impetus to go forward. And when we started Citrus Heights in 1997, I noticed there wasn’t an African American in the city administration, so I challenged the acting City Manager to find somebody. The next City Manager, Henry Tingle, was a Black man who brought in Latinos, Asians and African Americans.”

Shelby said, “I’m proud to be married to a woman who is not only the greatest wife a man could ever have but also the greatest educator I’ve ever known.”

Other honorees included Daniel Hahn, retired Sacramento Police Chief, and several student essay contest winners. 

Longtime Sacramento leaders James and Mertie Shelby give remarks as they accept the Robert T. Matsui Community Service Award at the 23rd annual MLK Jr. Dinner. Photo courtesy Tia Gemmell

The event was emceed by OBSERVER Publisher Larry Lee. Others who helped launch the event included Sacramento State President Robert S. Nelsen, U.S. Attorney Phillip A. Talbert of California’s Eastern District, and Christine Lovely of the Sacramento Black Chamber of Commerce. 

Keynote speaker Crystel Patterson, author of the children’s book series “Inspired To Be,” said that any child can be inspired by real heroes, including Dr. King and thousands of others — including many who were in the room that night. The message is simple: “If they can do it, then so can I.”