Martin Luther King Celebration on Jan. 15 at McKinley School


On the third Monday of January, the Martin Luther King Community Coalition, along with people all over the nation, will observe Dr. King’s birthday with its annual citywide Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Holiday Celebration.
Formerly held at the Jackie Robinson Park, the event has been traveling to and hosted by different school sites while the building is under renovation. On Jan. 15, it will be held at McKinley Elementary School at 325 S. Oak Knoll Ave., beginning at 8 a.m. with a video presentation and teach-in led by Julie Reynoso, executive director of Elementary Education of the Pasadena Unified School District.
Among the holiday festivities — which is highlighted by the recognition and celebration of student winners in the essay and visual and performing arts contests — keynote speaker Shimica Gaskins will talk about Dr. King’s legacy, why it is still important today and ways we can continue the work and keep his dream alive.
Gaskins is the executive director of the Children’s Defense Fund — California (CDF-CA), a state chapter of the national child advocacy organization founded by Marian Wright Edelman dedicated to leveling the playing field for all children through its policy advocacy and signature programs such as the CDF Freedom Schools patterned after the 1964 institution of the same name that offered supplemental culturally relevant literature and social justice awareness and their Beat the Odds Scholarship event that raises thousands of dollars for deserving students.
For eight years, the PUSD and the CDF-CA have jointly provided a multicultural summer literacy program that helps children, predominantly low-income African-American and Latino students and youth fall in love with reading and boost their self-esteem. The Pasadena LEARNs afterschool program is an official CDF Freedom Schools program partner. This summer, Gaskins was hands on at many of the sites — visiting the schools and reading books to students — including the one held locally at Altadena Elementary.
Before joining the CDF-CA, Gaskins worked in law and public policy specializing in legislative, regulatory and policy issues associated with criminal justice reform and children’s rights. She formerly served as the acting deputy assistant attorney general in the Office of Legal Policy of the U.S. Department of Justice, where she worked to develop and implement innovative policy initiatives in areas such as criminal justice reform and issues affecting children with incarcerated parents.
Before joining the DOJ, Gaskins was in private practice at Covington & Burling LLP where she managed complex civil litigation.
Not only is Gaskins keeping Dr. King’s dream alive through her career in advocacy, but also through paying it forward through academia, professional development and mentorship. She has taught as an adjunct professor at Catholic University of America and the Charles Hamilton Houston Preparatory Law School Institute, and has published law review articles on sentencing laws, child welfare and voting rights. Gaskins serves as a mentor to many law students and young lawyers. In 2016, she was honored with the National Bar Association’s “40 Under 40 Best Advocates” Award.
The Martin Luther King Community Coalition’s holiday celebration is presented in conjunction with the Pasadena Unified School District, Tournament of Roses, Aspires West Pasadena, Friends Indeed, Scott United Methodist Church, Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance, Delta Sigma Theta Sorority-Pasadena Chapter and the city of Pasadena. For more information, visit