A swelling chorus of “We Shall Overcome” cut through downtown Santa Barbara on Monday as hundreds took to State Street in honor of Martin Luther King Jr. Day.
The March in Unity, hosted by the Martin Luther King, Jr. Committee of Santa Barbara, began with a 9 a.m. rally at De La Guerra Plaza, with opening remarks by committee chairperson Isaac Garrett and ceremonial blessings by Pete Crowheart Zavalla and Matthew Zepeda of the Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians. A growing crowd, seemingly unbothered by the rain, filled the plaza as Coastal Band Family Singers performed “This Little Light of Mine” and several other classics. Children read portions of Dr. King’s most notable speeches and the Inner Light Gospel Choir provided music for the moving passages.
Santa Barbara officials, including Mayor Helene Schneider, Congressmember Lois Capps, Assemblymember Das Williams, and 1st District Supervisor Salud Carbajal attended the event to honor the progress of Civil Rights activists and call for continued efforts in fighting discrimination.
“This dream is still only half-fulfilled. We still have a country where poverty is rampant, income inequality is worse, and…we still live in a society where it is dangerous to be a young man of color,” Williams said. “We have a lot to do to raise up our leaders. MLK said the persistent question of life is ‘What will you do for other people?’ Let’s use this as our call for action today.”
Carbajal reinforced Williams’s call for action, beginning his speech by saying, “Things aren’t a little better this year, things are a little worse.” “It shouldn’t be just on Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday when we come together to celebrate MLK and his accomplishments. This is a year-round struggle,” Carbajal said. “So today let’s recommit to what we need to do to make sure that when we speak up, we are drowning those voices of hate that have become the norm.”
Jim Farr, Mayor of Goleta, recounted the ’50s and ’60s and described those years as turbulent times fraught with Jim Crow Laws and institutional racism. Farr said although the country has made progress, its people will endure an ongoing fight to ensure rights for all Americans.
“There is a systematic attempt on part of reactionaries throughout the country to roll back some of the strength of the ballot box for African Americans and all others who have been marginalized,” Farr said. “Vigilance is required now and forever.”
As the group set off to Arlington Theatre, State Street businesspeople poked their heads out of offices and lined the sidewalk to watch the passersby, clapping and singing along to Civil Rights songs and a timely variation of “We Shall Overcome” as “We’ll March in the Rain.”
Several shoppers and visitors on State Street joined the march as it passed by, and the group grew in size by the time it finally reached Arlington Theatre. MLK Jr. Committee members sold shirts and attendees filed in to watch the St. Paul Baptist Church Choir of Oxnard and several other presentations. The afternoon ended with performances by Santa Barbara Dance Institute and a benediction by Pastor Louis Watkins of New Friendship Missionary Baptist Church. Rounding out the performances, members of the Santa Barbara organization World Dance for Humanity bounded onto the scene with jingling hip scarves to celebrate freedom through dance.