As communities all across the United States assembled to pay tribute to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Santa Barbarans also gathered on Monday to remember both the civil rights activist and that there’s still work to be done in equality. This year marks the 40th anniversary of the man’s assassination, and the theme for this year’s remembrance on Martin Luther King, Jr., Day was “40 Years Later, Are We Living the Dream?”
Poetry submitted by sixth and seventh graders in light of the holiday perhaps presented greatest insight into the answer. Luke Stark, a sixth grader at Washington School, read his story about a trip to a park with stepping stones, etched with the words of great men and women who have fought for equality. “Are we living the dream today,” he asked. “No, but like the park we’re taking steps.” Monte Vista sixth grader Wei-Joan Udden told a story of how she brought in a Chinese recipe her mom makes for dinner at home as an entry for a class cookbook, and classmates made fun of her and laughed. “Of course they say sorry, but it doesn’t mean anything to me,” she recited.
A packed rally at Santa Barbara High School was followed by a unity march to the Marjorie Luke Theatre on the campus of Santa Barbara Junior High. Hundreds marched, including a group of people marching in support of black 22-year-old Ghana native Eric Frimpong, a former UCSB soccer player who was found guilty of raping a fellow student. Frimpong’s supporters, a group which included several of his soccer teammates, are claiming bias and injustice in Frimpong’s case, citing several examples where they believe wrong occurred, including in prosecution witnesses’ honesty, as well as the fact that a juror was arrested for a DUI, an alcohol-related offense, the weekend of jury deliberations. Frimpong will be back in court on January 31 for a motion to dismiss the verdict, and, if denied, sentencing, in which he would receive between three and eight years in prison.
Inside the theatre Monday, elected officials were participating in the rally, along with a diverse collection of 800 members of the community. Rep. Lois Capps, Supervisors Salud Carbajal, Janet Wolf and Brooks Firestone, City Councilmember Grant House and Assemblymember Pedro Nava all presented the Brotherhood of Santa Barbara-organizers of the event-with proclamations from their respective jurisdictions in remembering King. “Today is about celebrating the life of somebody who made such a difference,” Carbajal said. “It’s also a time to reflect on the issues and challenges still being fought.” The reminder also serves for people to “recommit to the struggle to eradicate those inequities,” he said.
A portion of Dr. King’s “I have a dream” speech-one of the most famous speeches in U.S. history, in which King expresses his hope that one day his children and ancestors will be treated as equals with people of different races-was played. Dr. Hymon Johnson, a professor at Antioch University, gave the keynote address.
But, again, perhaps the most meaningful words of the day came from the future sitting in the room-the kids. R.J. Moten, a African-American seventh grader at La Cumbre Junior High, read his essay called “Experiencing the Dream” in which he first asked friends and family if the dream King talked about had been realized, and then analyzed it himself. “It can’t just be taken off the shelf in January and February,” he said, explaining it’s like a garden which needs to be tended, watered and weeded. He then told the story of his 93-year-old grandpa remembering not being able to visit some of the beaches here in Santa Barbara. “Maybe I’m living part of the dream,” he said, realizing differences between then and now. “We cannot let the dream die with those who fought for change,” he said. “We must remember to keep and build the dream.”