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This Friday brings one of my favorite events of the year in Long Beach.

All respect to our many galas, food extravaganzas, wine tastings and our great Southern California-centric sporting events. I have a great time at our many art and cultural offerings, and brag on our theater troupes pretty much constantly.

But there's just something about the Greater Long Beach YMCA Good Friday Breakfast.

This will be the 51st time the Y has gathered the community together to celebrate Good Friday. I've lost count as to how many I've attended, but I can't remember the last time I missed one.

Of course one of the attractions is the celebration of one of the most important days in Christianity. This is the day we have designated as the Friday that Christ died on the cross.

The death had to happen in order to set the stage for the resurrection. And we believe that Christ died to earn forgiveness for our sins. Pretty heavy stuff, I know.

But in the last couple of decades — the breakfasts I can speak to personally — the Y has turned the Good Friday event up a notch. They offer a keynote speaker of renown to talk about how their belief has impacted their lives.

There have been a few speakers who were less than inspiring. But they have been heavily outnumbered by incredible stories from people I thought I knew only to learn more.

The first speaker to really open up at least in my memory, was the late great Gov. George Deukmejian. He set the bar high in 2000. But Bill Shumard, once Long Beach State athletic director and now CEO of Special Olympics of Southern California, came close the following year.

After a few out-of-town speakers, then county supervisor Don Knabe started another run in 2007. He was followed by then-president of Cal State Long Beach Bob Maxon, and former mayor Beverly O'Neill had the audience of more than 800 in her hand in 2009 recounting her remarkable story and steadfast faith.

Mike Jensen shared the miracle of his surviving a plane crash and the deepening of faith that followed in 2015, and Paul Williams explained how faith in "the Big Guy" brought him to sobriety and kept him there.

I've been privileged to know many of these speakers, and call them friends. And I've been humbled by their faith and the amazing things they have accomplished through it.

But I can see how their stories have impacted the rest of those in the ballroom, and I know I am far from the only one they've moved. It is a, dare I say it, religious experience.

I expect no less tomorrow at the 2019 version. The keynote speaker this year is Jim McDonnell. Yes, that Jim McDonnell; the former Long Beach Police Chief, the "retired" Los Angeles County Sheriff many wish would take his job back — soon. It will be a treat to hear his story.

After going on and on about the keynote speaker, I would be remiss if I didn't mention the faithful who make the breakfast special year after year. There's Mike and Arline Walter, who underwrite the breakfast — Arline reads Scripture every year. There's Henry Walker, F&M Bank's leader and master of ceremonies; Brian Russel offering the invocation and Noel Hacegaba in charge of the benediction. Finally, there's Greater Y CEO Alfredo Velasco, his staff and the many volunteers, who make it all happen.

Thank you to them all. And to you, a very happy Easter.

Harry has been executive editor of Gazette Newspapers for more than 26 years. He has been in the newspaper business for more than 35 years, with experience on both weekly and metropolitan daily papers in Colorado and California.

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