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Celebrating Martin Luther King’s Legacy:

The annual celebration of the birthday and accomplishments of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in Santa Monica was punctuated this year with a keynote address given by Anwarul Chowdhury, the former United Nations Under Secretary-General and High Representative for Least Developed Countries, Landlocked Developing Countries, and Small Island Developing States.

The interfaith program was held at the Soka Gakki International Auditorium and included musical performances, inspirational readings, and scholarship presentations to Santa Monica College students based on the theme “Be the Change You Want To See in the World,” the Mahatma Gandhi maxim. This year’s celebration was dedicated to the memory of Clyde Smith, Co-Founder of the Martin Luther King, Jr Westside Coalition, and Estella Burnett, the past MLK Jr. Westside Coalition Scholarship Chair, Educator, and Volunteer.

The MLK Jr. Westside Coalition 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.

Chowdhury began his keynote address by stating, “Today is an auspicious day not only because we are celebrating the life and legacy of a dreamer and visionary, but also because the world is eagerly waiting for the momentous occasion 24 hours later when we will all witness the high point of Dr. King’s dream, the inauguration of President-elect Barack Obama.

The former United Nations Under Secretary-General stressed that the “development of non-violence, tolerance, and democracy that Dr. King so intensely valued needs to be ultivated in every woman and man.” He believes this will help foster a mindset of peace and nonviolence in our world that is a “prerequisite for a transition from force to reason and from conflict and violence to dialog and peace.”

“Poverty and lack of opportunities deprive people of their dignity as human beings leaving them hopeless” noted Chowdury. “I’ve seen this globally while I championed their cause with my vast United Nations responsibility. Marginalization and abuse because of ethnicity, gender, or religion are all closely linked to poverty and lack of basic human rights in parts of the world.” He then pointed out that Dr. King called for a war on poverty.

The former United Nations Under Secretary-General mentioned that the United Nations declared the year 2000 as the “International Year of Peace” and the years 2001 to 2010 as a decade of a “Culture of Peace” for the children of the world. He then noted promoting peace is not an expensive venture. Everyone can be a true believer in peace and nonviolence and practice it, but a key ingredient to build this culture is education.

Chowdury concluded his address by stating, “I believe the ‘Culture of Peace’ is the vehicle to address the challenges of the 21st century as we carry forward the legacy of Dr. King.”

The co-sponsors for the event were the City of Santa Monica, the Santa Monica College Associates, CityTV-16 Santa Monica, and the RAND Corporation.

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