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Local man taking part in Atlanta MLK event

SUGAR HILL -- Ten young people from around the state have been chosen to recite "Let My People Go," a commemorative litany of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

College students involved in the recitation will play an integral role in Monday's commemorative service at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, a hallmark event of the King holiday.

Officials organizing the event chose participants from a wide range of backgrounds, including a young man from Sugar Hill who is a naturalized American citizen from Iran.

For 24-year-old Kaveh Vakili, the message of Monday's service to honor the late civil rights leader is all-too familiar.

He and his family fled Iran 12 years ago as refugees, having suffered religious persecution as members of the Baha'i faith.

"My family's religion is a banned religion in the country of Iran," Vakili said. "We are not allowed to attend any colleges or universities, hold public positions or even work in a public hospital."

Vakili's parents didn't want to limit their children's future. They came to America and became naturalized citizens. He now attends Georgia Gwinnett College and graduates in May with a bachelor's degree in business administration.

Without coming to America, his dreams of a post-secondary education would have never been fulfilled.

Vakili said he is honored to be a part of Monday's ceremony in Atlanta.

"I come from a background in a country where racial profiling is not occurring, but religious persecution is occurring daily," he said. "It's not the same problem, but it's along the same lines. I have friends whose parents are in jail right because they would not say they are Muslims."

It's for these reasons that his reading of "Let My People Go" will ring true for the young man.

"I feel their pain," Vakili said. "I feel the pain of anyone who has ever been persecuted."

The annual commemorative service is scheduled for 10 a.m. Monday. The event has been held since 1973 with guest speakers such as Andrew Young, Jimmy Carter, Rosa Parks, Jesse Jackson and Coretta Scott King.

According to its website, the Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change aims to "develop a critical mass of leaders who embrace the philosophy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in their own lives and apply his philosophy of nonviolence to the problems and issues of the community, the nation and the world."

For more information, visit www.thekingcenter.org.