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Opinion: Martin Luther King Jr. Day: San Diegans reflect on his legacy amid racial justice efforts in 2021

San Diego Union Tribune logo San Diego Union Tribune 1/16/2021

a person standing in front of a crowd: In this Friday, Aug. 28, 2020, file photo, Yolanda Renee King, granddaughter of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., raises her fist as she speaks during the March on Washington, on the 57th anniversary of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have A Dream" speech. (ASSOCIATED PRESS) © (ASSOCIATED PRESS) In this Friday, Aug. 28, 2020, file photo, Yolanda Renee King, granddaughter of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., raises her fist as she speaks during the March on Washington, on the 57th anniversary of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have A Dream" speech. (ASSOCIATED PRESS)

Why do we still march over 70 years later?

Jaelyn Kennedy is pursuing an acting and modeling career, and lives in Lakeside.

Let me first give you the definition of racism.

Racism is prejudice, discrimination or antagonism directed against a person or people on the basis of their membership in a particular racial or ethnic group, typically one that is a minority or marginalized.

Why did I give you that definition, you may ask? To have a conversation about race in America and America’s progress when it comes to race, we must have a clear understanding of the racism that is very fluent and prevalent in America. When we look at America’s history, the progress we see when it comes down to race since the last Civil Rights Movement is slim to none. Let’s talk about why. We can take moments from 2020 and even the first week of 2021 and compare those to the same actions that were taking place in the 1950s. The reasons for both historic moments are pretty similar, so if America has changed so much in a “positive” way, why are we marching for such similar reasons 70 years later?

The answer to that question lives in our first week of the new year 2021. We saw White supremacists and domestic terrorists storm the U.S. Capitol due to them losing the election. We saw those same people bomb Black communities and kidnap Black men, women and children decades earlier. While they hide in plain sight as our doctors, police officers, teachers, judges and people in office. While we march for a better and equal life, we get beat up, murdered and endure post-tramautic stress disorder. While they march for bigotry and hatred and commit treason, they get a slap on the wrist and may be arrested and treated nicely with organic meals as requested. America’s claim is “All men are created equal,” so why isn’t that shown throughout our history?

For America to move in a positive direction in 2021, we need to start holding people accountable instead of allowing them to use “change” as an excuse to perpetuate systemic racism. They need to understand that such behavior is unacceptable and won’t be tolerated. Racism in America should not be as blatant as it has been.

People are wondering what changed and why these people are so emboldened, so let’s take a look at the timeline. When racism is alive and well and the president of the United States enables it and calls political supporters to commit acts of violence with no consequences, all the pieces slowly start to fit together.

I truly hope that in 2021, we can continue to make some type of progress, for a better future, for the next generations to come. Even if the progress is small, it’s needed. This is not the time to give up and roll over.

Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “If you can’t fly then run, if you can’t run then walk, if you can’t walk then crawl, but whatever you do, you have to keep moving forward.” We must keep that same strength and drive to get the progress we want and very much need.

a group of people posing for a photo: Feb. 24, 1965 -- Rev. Martin Luther King receives warm welcome on his arrival in Los Angeles. (File photo/File photo/Los Angeles Times) © (File photo/File photo/Los Angeles Times) Feb. 24, 1965 -- Rev. Martin Luther King receives warm welcome on his arrival in Los Angeles. (File photo/File photo/Los Angeles Times)

I didn't think we'd slide so far backward

Dana Littlefield is an editor at The San Diego Union-Tribune. She is a native San Diegan.

Twelve years ago, on the day reserved to honor Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., I was preparing to witness a celebration of another Black man who left an indelible mark on U.S. history. I was in Washington, D.C., for the inauguration of President Barack Obama.

I had pitched the idea of blogging my experiences in the nation’s capital to an editor at The San Diego Union-Tribune. He suggested I write a personal essay introducing the blog to our readers, describing what it meant to me — a Black woman — to see Obama sworn into office.

The trip was, in a word, exhilarating.

More than 1.8 million people attended Obama’s first inauguration on Jan. 20, 2009. Getting around the city at that time was exceedingly difficult. The crowds were like nothing I’d experienced before or since.

And it was cold. Bitterly cold.

I’m from San Diego. I don’t do cold.

But the people I met were warm. Nearly everyone I interacted with, people representing different races, experiences and political views, said they recognized the significance of the moment. And most seemed happy to be there, despite the long lines outside every restaurant, the trains that stopped running the morning of the inauguration, and the heavy security in and around the National Mall.

That feels like a lifetime ago. So much is different now.

Back then, I was so hopeful that the election of Obama — a biracial man — to the nation’s highest office had signaled a shift in this country. It seemed like evidence that although we still had a long way to go to achieve racial justice and equality for all, we were heading in a positive direction.

I hadn’t considered that we could slide backward. Or how far.

As a reporter, crime and courts — not politics — were my primary focus, and my job provided countless opportunities to tell stories about all kinds of people, many of whom were going through the most tragic, heart-wrenching experiences of their lives.

I tried to amplify the voices of people who might not otherwise be heard or, more importantly, listened to. Often, those voices came from people of color.

Now as an editor, I’m responsible for sending reporters out to cover issues and events, including public protests. And that responsibility feels heavier than it did a just few years ago, knowing that my colleagues could find themselves in the path of a thrown bottle or a rubber bullet.

It’s heavier still after a mob laid siege to the U.S. Capitol Building less than two weeks ago, causing death and destruction while attempting to stop Congress from affirming President-elect Joe Biden’s Electoral College victory.

Rioters breached the building. That building where I had felt so much hope and pride on that cold January morning a dozen years ago. And one of them was photographed carrying a Confederate battle flag.

In a couple of days, Biden will be sworn in as the 46th president of the United States along with Kamala Harris, who will be the first Black and South Asian woman to serve as vice president. I have no way to predict whether they will be successful in those offices, and I don’t know if Biden will make good on his promise to “heal” the nation’s deep racial wounds.

But I remain hopeful.

a man standing in front of a building: The rising full moon passes behind the Martin Luther King Memorial and the Washington Monument, Tuesday evening, Dec. 29, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/J. David Ake) (ASSOCIATED PRESS) © (ASSOCIATED PRESS) The rising full moon passes behind the Martin Luther King Memorial and the Washington Monument, Tuesday evening, Dec. 29, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/J. David Ake) (ASSOCIATED PRESS)

This year, let's focus on loving our neighbor

Rev. Adrian Ewings is pastor at Faith Tabernacle Church and lives in Southeast San Diego.

As we sit in the midst of a pandemic when hundreds of thousands of Americans have lost their lives, and with racial tension sweeping the United States, we must not lose sight of the opportunity to celebrate a man who gave his life for the civil rights of human beings all across the country. Before we get to this incredible leader, let’s discuss what we are dealing with right now.

All across this world there is unrest because of the COVID-19 pandemic. As a survivor of this virus, I know exactly what people are going through: aches and pains, interrupted breathing, and isolation from family and friends. It is physically challenging as well as mentally challenging to those who suffer from the virus as well as those who have love ones who suffer from it.

I want to give you hope that even though this virus seems unstoppable, at the moment, we have a God that dealt with 10 plagues/viruses in Egypt, and he will protect you from this virus also. God said that he would never leave you nor forsake you so trust him in this time and he will guide you through it.

With the racial tension that is also plaguing our world, it seems like we are regressing instead of progressing. When we walked into 2020, we declared it the year of 20/20 vision, where we would see clearly. Looking back on it, that is what truly came to light. It was like the curtains were opened and the reality of what people thought when it came to race was exposed. I have personally lost friends because I didn’t agree with them on this subject.

We were able to see who walked in love and who didn’t because our eyes were opened. The other area we received clarity on was God’s clear love for his people. John 3:16 says “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” The word “world” in Greek is “Cosmos.” It means the orderly arrangement of a thing. It’s like a good flower arrangement.

God loves all the beautiful races and we all are beautiful in his sight. We have to take on the eyes of God and understand we all are his children and we are precious in his sight. We need God’s eyes!

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. is known for fighting for civil rights and social justice and as one who had a dream. I often wonder what he would think if he were alive today. He had so much hope for this nation, and he was so optimistic about what this nation could become. But let’s think about the dream. His dream was that Blacks, Whites, Asians and Latinos could all get together and love one another. He dreamed that we would all focus on making the American dream apply to all Americans, so that we could love each other in spite of our differences.

Now that we are in a new year, let’s focus on loving our neighbor as Christ pressed us to do, even loving those who may not love us. God loves us just the way we are, but he doesn’t want us to remain that way so he challenges us to grow into the beautiful flower that he designed from the beginning of time.

Let’s love one another through this adverse and tough time in history because John 13:34 says, “A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another.”

COVID-19 will not win. Racial unrest will not win. God says we are conquerors through Christ Jesus and that means we win

a group of people riding skis on top of a building: Demonstrators raise their fists in support of Black Lives Matter at the Lincoln Memorial during the Commitment March on August 28, 2020 in Washington, DC. The date marked the 57th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.'s March on Washington. (Photo by Natasha Moustache/Getty Images) (Getty Images) © (Getty Images) Demonstrators raise their fists in support of Black Lives Matter at the Lincoln Memorial during the Commitment March on August 28, 2020 in Washington, DC. The date marked the 57th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.'s March on Washington. (Photo by Natasha Moustache/Getty Images) (Getty Images)

I am beholden to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Andrea Guerrero is the executive director of Alliance San Diego and lives in North Park.

His call for racial equality was an echo of those that had come before him and a beacon to those who would come after, including me. I grew up as a biracial, bicultural, bilingual and binational child who felt like I didn’t fit anywhere — never enough of one identity to belong — and the teachings of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. became my north star.

Dr. King had the audacity to believe that all of us are created equal, that all of us belong to the human family, and that all of us are deserving of dignity and respect. Those are words I held on to as a young girl when I was told that I would never amount to anything because I was Mexican, and every time I have been treated as less-than, subjected to racial epithets, and excluded from spaces and opportunities that were not for “people like me.”

This country is in a moment of reckoning. Implicit bias, explicit hate, historical oppression and systemic marginalization have always been devastating and sometimes deadly for people of color and people deemed “other.” Increasingly, this threatens our democracy. But our past does not have to be a prologue — that is the calling of Dr. King, and it is what motivated my immigrant father to ignite my passion for change.

My father’s seminal lesson to me, especially in moments of adversity, was that the future belongs to the discontent, and it is up to us to shape a better future. Dr. King’s teachings on how to effect that change through nonviolent strategies is fundamental to shaping a future that is based on love, not hate, and which creates space for everyone to belong.

That is the work of Alliance San Diego, an organization founded out of discontent. The discontent of knowing that the promise of this country — that all people are endowed with the inalienable right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness — is impeded by the structural inequalities and systemic racism that have marred this country from the beginning and are on full display today.

At Alliance San Diego, we envision a better future and are working towards it — a future where all people can achieve their full potential in an environment of harmony, safety, equality and justice. To get there, we are empowering diverse communities (and especially communities of color) to engage effectively in the civic process so we can build a more inclusive democracy.

Together we are raising our voices and taking action to affirm Black lives and protect other lives in danger. We are changing public discourse and public policy, and we are shaping a future that belongs to all of us, and we to it.

We invite the community to join us in building a Beloved Community, including at the virtual All Peoples Celebration, honoring the life and legacy of Dr. King Monday from 10:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. Learn more at alliancesd.org.

a man holding a sign: People attend a vigil for Stephon Clark, the young black man killed by police last month in Sacramento, on the anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King on April 4, 2018 in New York City. (Getty Images) © (Getty Images) People attend a vigil for Stephon Clark, the young black man killed by police last month in Sacramento, on the anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King on April 4, 2018 in New York City. (Getty Images)

Where do we go from here into 2021?

Jeffrey Carr is the chief diversity officer at Point Loma Nazarene University and serves as an instructor in the Sociology Department and the School of Education. He is the 2017 recipient of the PLNU Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Legacy Award. He lives in Riverside County.

I have often considered the annual celebration of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. as a celebration of the movement that he was chosen to lead as well as a celebration of the man. An annual time that we can focus on the goals of that movement and how far we have come to accomplish those goals. That reflection will naturally include a reckoning of how far we have to go in ultimately achieving those goals.

As I look at the year 2021 that follows the unanticipated turmoil of 2020 that centered around justice and equality, on the face it appears we have barely scratched the surface of ensuring these basic tenets of humanity in our society. Yes, the killing of George Floyd and other innocent Black Americans last year stirred our righteous indignation in ways that rivaled the passion of those of us involved in the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s. It was a stark reminder that we as a society had not reached the lofty goals of the Civil Rights movement and refocused a national conversation on race, equity, and justice that we needed. Where do we go from here into 2021?

Part of the mistake of our country was thinking that the hard lifting has already been done working towards equality and justice and there was just a little bit more work needed. And that is a big mistake because with that will always instill a sense of complacency that hinders any real progress. In 2020 we had one of the longest periods of uninterrupted peaceful marches and public protests to demand changes in our society. From the period of late May to September, there was at least one march per day somewhere in the United States (and possibly the world), that pushed for those elusive goals of anti-racism, justice and equality. Some continue today. In 2021 our biggest mistake would be to categorize those marches as a means to an end. The renewed commitment to anti-racism must be institutionalized in a systemic approach in every facet of our society. Whether in public policy, law enforcement, education, corporate practices or any other aspect of our lives, we need clear commitment and specific action to maintain this renewed priority for our country.

2021 has a great deal of promise to accomplish just that. Our country’s election results for our political leaders have signaled a desire for us to move towards a country with more conscience and less self-serving ideology. But we must not lose steam because if the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s has taught us anything, it is that we must play the long game.

While the protests of 2020 provided a flashpoint of interest, in order to capitalize on that (and hopefully avoid future flashpoints) we need to double down on our systemic approach in addressing these issues that were so passionately displayed by Dr. King, or we will never make any real progress in 2021 or any other year. We will end up in a neverending cycle triaging flashpoints and not managing change. One thing that is great to celebrate about Dr. King is that he realizes that it starts with an individual commitment. One of his less quoted yet powerful quotes states, “We must come to see that the end we seek is a society at peace with itself, a society that can live with its conscience.” Individually we must understand that our own conscience will guide our actions and then progress can be made in 2021, and the years to follow.

This story originally appeared in San Diego Union-Tribune.

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