Beneath a steady downpour, interrupted by low rumbles of thunder, Atlantic City residents and local officials gathered beneath umbrellas at the city's Civil Rights Garden to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington.

Stephanine Dixon, a New Jersey state Martin Luther King Jr. commissioner, spoke not only of continuing the work of the late civil rights worker, but also emotionally appealed to the community to honor his nonviolent legacy.

"At 12:40 this afternoon, there were shots in front of my house," Dixon said, referring to an incident outside Carver Hall in which no shooter was identified but also no victim was reported. "I had to duck in front of my window. ... If they don't honor thy neighbor, how are they supposed to keep Dr. King's dream alive?"

Dixon also tearfully recalled the Jan. 1, 2012, fatal shooting of her son's half-brother, Kendal Hudgins.

"You don't know what it's like to go into a hospital room and see a child on a tile, to lose a life to tragedy," she said, holding back sobs. "This is why I fight so hard, and don't mind standing in the rain."

The state Martin Luther King Commission has provided scholarships to local youth, "though we don't have the funds we used to have," Dixon said before Wednesday's event. "We're just trying to raise awareness through organizations, groups, churches, any way possible."

Michael Bailey, the executive director of the Atlantic City Police Athletic League, brough several children to the commemoration.

"It's important for children to come out to such events," Bailey said. "It makes them understand even more the trials and struggles they had gone through. ... With all that's going on in the city, with the violence and things like that, it brings some things into perspective on what it's all about."

The few dozen or so who attended the rainy commemoration included Republican state Senate candidate Sheriff Frank Balles, Atlantic County Freeholder Alex Marino and Democratic freeholder candidate Bard Shober.

Derek Brock, the owner of Mutual Taxi & Limousine in Atlantic City - "one of the oldest black-owned businesses in the city," he said - talked about the importance of private and public entities providing jobs and educational opportunities.

Afterward, Dixon and several others returned to the garden to ring the large bell at 3 p.m., as other bells were being rung across the nation.

"It was great to see people still coming out throughout the community," Dixon said. "It turned out to be a nice ceremony."

Contact Steven Lemongello:


Follow Steven Lemongello on Twitter @SteveLemongello