The annual celebration of the birthday and accomplishments of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in Santa Monica has long been one of the largest in this area. but this year’s celebration, on Monday, surpassed all the previous events, as the keynote address by the late civil rights leader’s daughter, Yolanda King, was followed by the dedication of the new Martin Luther King Jr. Auditorium at the new Main Library.
The interfaith celebration began at the Soka Gakki International Auditorium with a program that included musical performances, inspirational readings and scholarship presentations to Santa Monica College students based on the theme “Remember, Celebrate, Act: A Day On, Not A Day Off.”
Dr. Lawrence Edward Carter Sr., the first dean of the Martin Luther King Jr. International Chapel at Morehouse College in Atlanta, Georgia, introduced King, describing her mission of “continuing the legacy of her father by carrying her message of the importance of embracing our common humanity. She wants people to love themselves enough so they can begin to love others, create unity by celebrating diversity, and help people embrace their differences until difference doesn’t make a difference.”
Yolanda King then took the stage and described her father as a king “who fought injustice with a shield of grace and a sword of non-violence. My father was kin to all of humanity. My father was a king, not the kind of king with servants at his feet but one who served at the feet of the tired, the powerless and the disrespected. My father was a king, but not the kind that made me a princess. He was the kind who made me a peacemaker.”
She went on to describe her parents, Martin Luther King Jr. and Coretta Scott King as “modern day architects for achieving the dream” and herself as a “pilot of the dream that [she] chooses to believe in…. choosing is a very powerful act and it is available to anyone. It makes no difference who you are, what your circumstances are. In every moment of your life you can choose….the civil rights movement signaled some of the most important changes in our country. We must never forget the sacrifices that were made to achieve the gains that resulted. It changed America forever.”
Turning to the current state of the nation, King said, “The gulf between the haves and have nots is widening. For those who didn’t know it before, the aftermath of hurricane Katrina revealed it for all of us. The magnificent dream fiercely resolved by Martin Luther King is still a dream.
“We can chose to believe that we will never create a society, a world where boys and girls, men and women can come together as brothers and sisters and live in a community without fear. Or we can choose to get off our apathy … and do our share to bring that world into being. The cause for which he lived is still a cause and the dream for which he died is still a dream. Our job is to make that dream a reality because our very survival depends on it.
“My father would be disappointed if people simply were taking the day off for rest and relaxation. This is a different kind of day. He would want it to be a day of deeds, not lip service…reflection, not recreation…service, not shopping. This day should be a day of service to others.”
Following her address, King then led a march down Sixth Street to the library for the dedication of the 146-seat Martin Luther King Jr. auditorium.
Santa Monica Mayor Robert Holbrook told the large crowd that “Dr. King believed in the accumulation of knowledge, in the importance of education and the availability of places for the community to gather as one. Today we are dedicating such a place – for everyone here, for the residents of Santa Monica and for all those who will come to visit and be inspired by this amazing new facility. A library is the intellectual center of the community and this auditorium is its heart.”
The dedication ceremonies also included the unveiling of the entryway monument to Dr. King that was designed by local artist Don “Roho” Davis, and was highlighted by a passage – “I have the audacity to believe that peoples everywhere can have three meals a day for their bodies, education and culture for their minds and dignity, equality and freedom for their spirits” – from the speech King gave when he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in December, 1964 (see entire text of the speech on page 6).
A tapestry rendering of Dr. King was created by Ojai artist Jeff Sanders and fabricated in Europe.
School Board member Oscar De La Torre, also the Executive Director of the Pico Youth Center. told the Mirror, “Today we are celebrating the life of a prophet. The struggle for racial justice is alive in Santa Monica as we fight for equality in our schools, improved community police relations and youth services for Pico Neighborhood residents. We need to deliver, not just have symbolism.”
The event was coordinated by the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Westside Coalition which is a non-profit organization comprised of a diverse group of Westside individuals, churches, institutions, community organizations and businesses. Its mission is to educate adults and youths, to inspire community participation, and to promote the ideals of Martin Luther King for understanding, knowledge and healing. The co-sponsors were the City of Santa Monica and the Santa Monica College Associates.