Robert Faulkner said he wanted "in the worst way" to participate in the Aug. 28, 1963, March on Washington. However, Faulkner, a member of the Warren City Schools Board of Education, explained he wasn't able to pull it off.
"I was saving every nickel and dime for college and just didn't have it. I couldn't go," he said. "All these years, part of me has wondered what I missed."
At midnight, Faulkner joined a group of people who boarded a bus destined for Washington, D.C., to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the march and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech. The trip was planned by the Martin Luther King Planning Committee of Youngstown.
The Rev. Bobby Turner of Columbus places his hand on the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial on Thursday in Washington, D.C.
Activities to celebrate the historic event are planned for the next week throughout the country.
Faulkner, a member of the Dream Team in Warren, was asked to attend the opening ceremonies of the commemoration, which is starting today in Washington. He said he and the group he is traveling with will spend several hours in the capital before heading back to Youngstown tonight.
"I just want to see what it's all about, to maybe even hear from people who were there 50 years ago, just to be part of it all," he said. "I couldn't be there then. But I wanted to be there. Now I have the chance and I don't want to miss it."
The observances begin today with a march from the Lincoln Memorial to the King Memorial, led by the Rev. Al Sharpton and King's son, Martin Luther King III. They will be joined by the parents of Trayvon Martin, and family members of Emmett Till, a 14-year-old boy who was kidnapped, beaten and shot in the head in 1955 after he was accused of flirting with a white woman.
President Barack Obama is scheduled to speak at the "Let Freedom Ring" ceremony on Wednesday, and will be joined by former presidents Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton.
Along with their speeches, there will be a nationwide bell ringing at 3 p.m. to mark the exact time King delivered his famous speech, with which the march is most associated.
The events were organized by The King Center in Atlanta and a coalition of civil rights groups.
Separately, a smaller march, led by people who participated in the 1963 event and young scholars and athletes, will make its way from Georgetown Law School in Washington to the Department of Labor, then the Justice Department and finally the National Mall. The group plans to march behind a replica of the bus that Rosa Parks was riding in 1955 when she refused to give up her seat to a white passenger.
The Rev. Lewis Macklin of Youngstown, who helped plan the trip to Washington, said he hopes the commemoration is "not just a 50-year review."
"If we reflect on the very reason there even was a march and look at where we are 50 years later, we will see some of our successes but also the challenges we still need to address," said Macklin, who attended 30th anniversary activities 20 years ago.
"The issues of salaries, disparity of wages, not just among African-Americans, but people of all races and ethnic groups. The march is an awakening of those issues that existed then but also a reawakening of what we still need to address today," Macklin said.
He said he's concerned that there is a whole generation that fails to realize the sacrifices that were made and the collaboration it took make change.
"If we fail to realize what that movement was and that we are benefactors of that, then we are missing so much of it," he said. "I think we see that in voter apathy, educational opportunities that exist but are not pursued. I think they know about the struggle but they don't appreciate it to the depth that they should."
Faulkner said he believes there remains a lot of ignorance, including among today's youth, about what sacrifices were made to establish civil rights.
"We need to blame ourselves for that," he said. "It's time for us to start educating our young about the sacrifices that were made for them. If our kids have no understanding of that, then it's our own fault. Work has been done to address racial issues, Civil Rights, equality. We certainly have more access today to certain areas than our predecessors did.
"But we have a long way to go to teach our kids, to set the example, to teach them to respect each other and themselves. We can work through our issues. If we can get the message of respect across then we've accomplished a lot right there."
The Associated Press contributed to this story.