Union Democrat staff

Civil rights activist Carmen Perez, a co-founder of the Women’s March on Washington held in January 2017, will be the featured speaker at the Motherlode Martin Luther King Jr. Birthday Celebration on Jan. 14.

Perez, who will travel to Sonora from her home in New York, has dedicated 20 years to advocating for many of today’s civil rights issues, including mass incarceration, gender equity, violence prevention, racial healing and community policing, according to her website, www.mscarmenperez.com.

Perez traveled the globe as executive director of The Gathering for Justice, a nonprofit organization founded by artist and activist Harry Belafonte, where she has promoted peace through civil and human rights, building alternatives to incarceration and violence and providing commentary and guidance for state and federal policy creation.

She is also co-founder of Justice League NYC and founder of Justice League CA, both state-based task forces for advancing juvenile and criminal justice reform agenda.

Her role as national co-chair of the Women’s March on Washington drew more than 5 million people to marches around the globe held in resistance to hatred and bigotry.

Perez received the Justice, Peace and Freedom Award at the 2016 AFL-CIO Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Civil and Human Rights Awards, and in 2017 was named one of Fortune’s “Top 50 World Leaders” and one of TIME’s most influential people.

“I think she is first and foremost a community organizer, and Martin Luther King Jr. was a community organizer, and we need to learn how to be good community organizers to affect good change,” said Pat Cervelli, a MLK Jr. Committee board member.

Cervelli said the committee hopes Perez’s appearance will have a positive influence on the community.

“I hope that people will be energized to participate in local government and run for local seats … and look to improve the status quo so that policies that are made are going to improve the lives of all of us,” she said. “I think it has to start at the local level, so we’re hoping she’ll energize us to go out and make some change.

The Jan. 14 celebration will begin at 2 p.m. at the Sonora High School auditorium, 480 N. Washington St., in Sonora, and will be followed by a reception in the school cafeteria, during which Perez will be available to answer questions. It is free to the public, but donations will be accepted.

The Motherlode Martin Luther King Jr. Committee has presented free programs in the community for 23 years.

Each January, the committee presents a speaker whose ideals and work embody and emulate the life work of King, an American Baptist minister who became a renowned civil rights leader in the 1950s and ’60s. He was shot and killed by James Earl Ray on April 4, 1968, in Memphis, Tennessee.

The committee last year also hosted a viewing of the movie “I Am Not Your Negro,” and an essay contest with cash prizes for students in sixth through 12th grades. The winner of the 2017 essay contest will be announced at the Jan. 14 event.

Cervelli said the committee is looking for new members. For more information, go online to motherlodemlk.org or the Motherlode Martin Luther King Jr. Committee on Facebook. Donations to the nonprofit organization can be made through its Facebook page.