Several hundred people of all ages gathered Sunday at Sonora High School to reflect on a slain civil rights leader’s message and what it means in 2017.
Members of the Motherlode Martin Luther King Jr. Committee organized the event at Sonora High School. It was the committee’s 22nd annual celebration.
A moderator at the event, Kathy Malloy, said Monday, “People’s rights are still being abused in different ways, and we have to make sure that we continue the legacy, the ideals of Martin Luther King, that we don’t give up.”
Pat Cervelli, a member of the Motherlode Martin Luther King Jr. Committee, said King’s legacy today is more important than ever because King focused on inclusivity and he spoke out against segregation.
“We still have segregation today, mostly in our cities,” Cervelli said. “King talked about economic equality for everyone. At the end of his life when he was assassinated he was organizing the Poor People’s Campaign. There was a tent city in D.C. on the Mall and it went on after his death.”
Cervelli said she and other committee members want to reach people of all ages in the Mother Lode and share King’s ideas.
“What we’re trying to do is reach out to everyone in this community to share his vision, all of us living together nonviolently and sharing in the riches of this country,” Cervelli said. “When he came out against the Vietnam War in 1967 he lost a lot of support among the white community. His message was the wealth of this country is going toward a foreign war, not toward making life better for citizens of this country.”
People who attended the Sunday event said no one mentioned by name President-elect Donald J. Trump, whose inauguration is scheduled Friday. Trump over the weekend criticized former civil rights leader U.S. Rep. John Lewis, D-Georgia, in response to Lewis saying he intends to boycott Trump’s inauguration. Lewis also told NBC News last week, “I don’t see this President-elect as a legitimate president.”
Chris Montesano, another committee member and a resident of Calaveras County and Tuolumne County since 1976, said he brought leaflets on his own behalf to distribute at the Sunday event, urging people to gather at 4 p.m. Friday at Courthouse Square to protest Trump’s inauguration.
“This is a government of the 1 percent, by the 1 percent, for the 1 percent,” Montesano said Monday. “This is me personally, not on behalf of the committee. This cabinet that he’s proposing, it’s the wealthiest cabinet ever.”
King’s message that a government of the people by the people and for the people, it’s imperative that people embrace this today, Montesano said.
“We need to all come together to make sure that everyone is represented and included, including the disenfranchised, people who can’t vote because they have not registered,” Montesano said. “We need to encourage people to come out and vote and participate in democracy. That is one of the things King encouraged.”
Trump has a reputation as a bully, in comments he’s made about minorities, women and the disabled, Montesano said.
“That is what was going on in the civil rights era,” Montesano said. “People were being bullied because they were black and King stood up against it. We have to encourage people to stand up against bullying today. Immigrants and other different people have been targeted by the president-elect in his speeches. That’s bully behavior. Unfortunately a lot of people accept that and we have to stand up against it and show that it’s not acceptable.”
Featured speaker Mimi Kim, an assistant professor of social work at California State University, Long Beach, focused Sunday on the concept of transformative justice, an alternative strategy for responding to conflicts outside the criminal justice system.
“We had a lot of young people there, which is great,” Cervelli said. “There were a bunch of teens from the high school. We really want to turn young people on to Martin Luther King’s message. MLK was about creating a movement for social change, and that is something we need more than ever today, a mass movement of people for social justice. We need that more than ever.”
Levi Lowe,a 17-year-old senior at Sonora High, read a poem he wrote to celebrate Martin Luther King’s legacy.
“The entire poem was inspired by MLK’s concepts about equality and equity and stuff,” Levi Lowe said Monday, Martin Luther King Jr. Day. “The very end of the poem is very Martin Luther King. MLK would say those things, totally.”
Lowe shared the poem, which is titled “About the Separation VI.” Here are some of the last lines Lowe associates with King and King’s voice:
Humans, I am of you.
Sequoia, I am of you.
Mom/dad, I am of you.
Poison, I am of you.
Paradox, I am of you.
Animal, I am of you.
Nothingness, I am of you.
Lowe, a state poetry-recital champion, said he was asked to appear at the event on Sunday, and he is motivated on his own to understand King and explain to others what King means today.
“I want to do this because I feel like if we don’t then we’re not going to be equal, we’re not going to be one,” Lowe said. “We are so fractured right now as people. If we don’t come together and talk about this it’s not going to happen. We’re not going to understand each other. Spanning across all age groups and ethnic groups we all identify as human. We need to be not so afraid of confrontation. We need to understand each other.”
The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was an American Baptist minister and activist who helped lead the modern American Civil Rights Movement, from 1955 until he was assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee, in 1968.
According to the King Center for Nonviolent Social Change in Atlanta, African Americans gained more progress toward racial equality in the U.S. in that time than during the previous 350 years.
Martin Luther King Jr. Day is observed on the third Monday of January each year. King was born Jan. 15, 1929 in Atlanta.