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By Tom Pantera, Published January 19 2003

Fit for a King? Fargo woman sees street value in honoring civil rights icon

Janeen Kobrinsky puts her talent where her mouth is.

As she did last year, she will be master of ceremonies and perform at Monday's celebration of Martin Luther King Jr. Day at the Fargo Theatre.

The one-hour event will begin at 7 p.m. Admission is free.

Kobrinsky, a member of Fargo's Human Relations Commission, recently proposed naming a Fargo street after King.

Monday's event will feature a showing of King's famous "I Have a Dream" speech, performances by the North Dakota State University Black Student Alliance and Trollwood Performing Arts School's MLK Day Celebration Choir.

Fargo Human Relations Awards will be presented to CHARISM Center (organization); Fargo attorney Mark Schneider (individual adult), who has served on the North Dakota Commission on Civil Rights and worked on individual human rights cases; and Shanley High School student Ryan Thoreson (individual youth), who has worked on human rights issues through his church and school.

The event will be followed by showing of "Two Towns of Jasper," a documentary about the 1998 racial murder of James Byrd in Jasper, Texas. The movie will begin at 8:30 p.m. and admission is free.

(The film also will be shown at 8 p.m. Wednesday nationally on PBS and Ted Koppel will host a town meeting on it for PBS at 8 p.m. Thursday from Jasper.)

Kobrinsky's street-naming proposal would mean Fargo would pay tribute to King year-round, rather than just on the holiday.

"I think we have All-American City status now and we should, as a group, honor a street in Martin Luther King's name," Kobrinsky says.

She has proposed renaming NP Avenue, although she's not insisting on that street. "It's just that when I moved here from Canada 11 years ago, I thought NP Avenue was a really stupid name," she says.

"But any street's good with me."

She says it doesn't matter that Fargo-Moorhead, and North Dakota, have a relatively small black population. The latest census figures identify only 0.6 percent of the entire state's population as black.

"I don't think Martin Luther King necessarily addressed only African-American or black issues," Kobrinsky says. "He also addressed the issues of the poor, the disenfranchised."

Dan Mahli, a Fargo city planner who works with the city's Human Relations Commission, says last year's King Day celebration pleasantly surprised organizers by drawing an estimated 700 people.

"I wasn't sure what to expect," Mahli says. "As they rolled in, I just couldn't believe the number of people."

"I think the celebration is really important," Kobrinsky says. "It blew us all away last year when we packed the house. We had no idea what to expect; I would've been glad if it was just the parents of the kids who were singing. We were just astounded.

"I think there are lots of people in the Fargo-Moorhead area who want to do something to mark the day in a meaningful way. I think people came out and found there were other people who feel the same way, who feel really strongly about cultural diversity."

Mahli says the city also has organized a service project that will begin on King Day and run through the end of the month.

The city hopes to collect up to four tons of blankets, toiletries and canned goods in a "Stuff the Bus" campaign.

Collection points include Hornbacher's and Cashwise stores; YMCA locations; the NDSU Lutheran Center; Fargo City Hall; First United Methodist, Edgewood Methodist, First Baptist, Maple Sheyenne Lutheran, Unitarian Universalist and Nativity churches; Temple Beth El; Lewis and Clark and Roosevelt elementary schools; Cargill; and United Campus Ministry.

On Friday, Jan. 31, a MAT bus will travel to the collection sites and volunteers will load donations on the bus for delivery to area shelters.

Other King Day observances are planned during the week. They include:

- Today will feature a presentation by author Clifton Taulbert at Concordia College.

He will talk about "Eight Habits of the Heart" at 7 p.m. in Memorial Auditorium. A second presentation, with an educational focus, will be at 10 a.m. Monday in Memorial Auditorium.

Both programs are free.

Taulbert, an author, lecturer and leader in building communities, is founder of the Building Community Institute. He began that to extend ideals he encountered while growing up in the Mississippi Delta.

- On Monday, the Plains Art Museum will be open for free to families in observance of the holiday.

- The Mixed Blood Theatre Co. of Minneapolis will present "Dr. King's Dream" Thursday at Minnesota State University Moorhead.

The performance will be at 7 p.m. in Roland Dille Center for the Arts Hansen Theatre. It features Marvin Grays in a solo performance chronicling King's career from its beginning during the Montgomery bus strike to his death in Memphis.

Admission is free. For more information, call (218) 236-3572.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Tom Pantera at (701) 241-5541

If you go …

-What: Martin Luther King Jr. Day celebration, featuring showing of his "I Have a Dream" speech and musical performances. Free admission.

-When: 7 p.m. Monday

-Where: Fargo Theatre

-Information: (701) 235-4152