SOUTHINGTON - Though he has retired and moved to Maine, former First Baptist Church pastor David Strosahl returned to town Sunday as the guest speaker of the annual Martin Luther King Jr. celebration at the Aqua Turf Club. Strosahl organized the annual event for 14 years. The celebration features people from different races, genders and religions coming together to celebrate the dream to which King dedicated his life. "We thank you for inviting us to this celebration of Martin Luther King Jr. This year is especially significant for us. This is the 50th anniversary of Dr. King's visit to India, which he described as 'one the most concentrated and eye-opening experiences of my life,' " said Amarjeet Dargan, member of the Southington Gurdwara Guru Nanak Darbar Sikh congregation. The origins of Sikhism are traced to 1469 in India; about 2 percent of India's population is Sikh. Dargan said King's message of nonviolence, love and faith in God is the same one the Sikhs have preached over the centuries. "King and other gave their lives to bring these uplifting changes for humanity. In his words, 'We must all learn to live together or perish together,'" Dargan said. Children in the back of the room were serving as a living example of Dargan's words. As the adults listened to the speakers, a diverse group of children played games, not paying attention to the race, religion or gender of their playmates. Strosahl said racism goes against the heart of the American soul and is like a demon that needs to be exorcised. The theme of the celebration - Chains Bind Us, Ties Free Us --reminds Strosahl of fundamental American beliefs. "The theme reminds me that because of the collective American soul we all share, that we as a nation believe we have an upward calling," Strosahl said. "There is something about the United States of America, we believe that we are not defined by a parcel of land, we are not defined by an ethnicity and we are not defined by a religion, though we comprise a lot of those things. We are a people that believe we have an upward calling. It is for freedom for all and equal opportunity." Strosahl first became friends with the Sikh community in Southington through the Interfaith Clergy Association after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. The Sikhs feared a backlash from people who may not understand the differences between Sikhs and the Muslim terrorists. People faced with a dead end often place their own failures or inadequacies on people of color, Strosahl said. King never really told people to do anything new, but to come back to what Americans believe in. "He always appealed to the angels of our better nature. He always said come back, America. Come back to what you say you believe. Come back to what you say you are," Strosahl said. "Come back to we hold these truths to be self-evident, all are created equal, endowed by our creator. Don't be anything different than what you say you are." Clinton Scarlett of Hartford was impressed with the celebration, which he attended for the fourth time. "Every year we make it a point of duty to come," said Scarlett, a member of the Jamaica Ex-Police Association of Connecticut. "It was good. I hope we will all be able to follow through on the comments. We have to remove that demon and come together."