Isaac Garrett has been organizing events to honor Martin Luther King, Jr. for more than 40 years, and if it’s up to him that won’t be stopping anytime soon.
“I believe that as long as I have my health, I’ll find a way to make it happen,” he said.
After Dr. King’s birthday became a federal holiday, some groups would host one-day events, or one church service that lasted an hour. Mr. Garrett knew that wouldn’t suffice.
“Just one hour per year to honor such a great man? That wasn’t enough,” he said. “So we finally got together and decided to organize.”
Mr. Garrett was approached by a local church who asked him to step in. He gladly accepted, and recalled the first few meetings drawing anywhere from 30 to 40 people. The numbers remained steady for a few years before the committee reached the point where they were ready to apply for its 501c3 nonprofit status.
The 79-year-old Louisiana native was one of the founding members of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Committee of Santa Barbara in 2008. With other organizations in town that promote inclusion and equal rights, Mr. Garrett wanted to be sure that this committee was centered around Dr. King, his legacy and his life’s worth — which helped the group form its mission statement nearly 12 years ago.
The local nonprofit sponsored Saturday’s march across campus at Santa Barbara City College and also helped organize Monday’s march from De la Guerra Plaza to the Arlington Theatre.
The committee solicits input from other groups and individuals in the community on how to properly recognize Dr. King. Events such as Monday’s also allows the group to let people actively participate rather than simply serve as spectators.
“We think that will spark a little more interest as well,” Mr. Garrett said. “Sometimes people want to feel like they’re apart of something, not just to go and be entertained.”
Mr. Garrett said we are living in “troubling times,” with many people reliant upon the government to fix their problems.
“I’ve said for years that some people think that our politicians, be it local or national, are going to come up with a solution. It’s not going to happen,” Mr. Garrett said. “You and I are going to have to come up with the solutions, and it’s going to have to come from our heart, not a legislative body.
“(Dr. King) preached love your neighbor, do something for somebody other than yourself. Not to try to do everything just to benefit you or your family and loved ones you’re surrounded by,” he explained. “Do something to benefit your community, to benefit your country. Let all the people enjoy the fruits of your labor, even the people that you don’t know. That, to me, is when you’re making a difference.”
Mr. Garrett has been a member of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People since the 1960s, serving as president for six years during the 1980s. While the NAACP has, and continues, to make accomplishments, Mr. Garrett soon realized the group was spending time trying to correct what had already been done.
“If we can get people to respond with kindness and love, then some of these things would never happen,” Mr. Garrett said. “That’s what I’m thinking we need to do, is work towards being preventative rather than corrections.”
Mr. Garrett said he is often asked by friends and family why he continues to fight for equal rights. His answer is simple.
“It’s because I want to see right done,” he said. “I want people to be able to exercise their rights and privileges.
“I have never wanted an abundance for myself when my family and neighbors are in need,” he said. “To me, it doesn’t make sense and that’s the way I try to live.”