Santa Barbara event focuses on equality at all levels
About 200 people attended this year’s Martin Luther King Jr. Day rally in De la Guerra Plaza to celebrate the life and accomplishments the famous civil rights leader.
Though Monday’s event — organized by the Martin Luther King, Jr. Committee of Santa Barbara — had a familiar program of songs and speeches for its first hour, it was followed this year by a march up State Street to the Arlington Theatre.
A march was planned for the 2018 observance of Dr. King’s birthday, but couldn’t be carried out because law enforcement resources were allocated to Montecito following the Jan. 9 debris flow.
Isaac Garrett, vice president of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Committee, emceed the event and Pastor J.B. Ficklin of Greater Hope Baptist Church delivered its keynote speech, centered on the theme of this year’s celebration, “Together we stand.”
Standing at a podium set up on the plaza lawn in front of City Hall, the Rev. Ficklin stressed love’s crucial role in achieving unity and solving the ills of our world today.
“Dr. Martin Luther King believed it with all of his heart. He knew that there could be nothing — no problems solved, no racism, no discrimination, no hunger, no housing, no nothing — without love. Love helps us to stand together,” he said.
The pastor’s speech was preceded by a solo vocal performance from Greater Hope Baptist church member Bernice Garrett, who received much applause for a rendition of “If I Could Help Somebody,” a favorite tune of Dr. King’s.
Other performances at the gathering included renditions of tribal songs from the Chumash Family Singers and a dance routine by women from World Dance For Humanity.
Two local students, winners of the essay portion of the committee’s Martin Luther King Day Essay and Poetry Contest, were given the opportunity to recite the pieces they wrote on Martin Luther King and his legacy.
Roosevelt Elementary School sixth-grader Nolan Carney’s essay titled “Standing up and Speaking Out” praised Dr. King’s leadership as a promoter of civil rights and making America into “a more peaceful place.”
Next was Dos Pueblos High School 12th-grader Michelle Qin, who won the contest’s high school division for the fourth year in a row with her essay “All For All.”
In her piece, Miss Qin wrote that the “dream” Dr. King referred to during his famous “I Have a Dream” speech was deeper than one of a “world where girls and boys of different colored skins can stand hand in hand.”
“Dr. King advocated for an equality that fulfilled the truest sense of the word, and that meant not only racial equality, but social equality, educational equality, political equality, and financial equality,” she said.
After the first part of the event concluded around 10 a.m., the crowd gathered on De la Guerra Street to begin the march up State Street. As the procession made its way toward the Arlington singing “We Shall Overcome” and “This Little Light of Mine,” the News-Press caught up with several participants who shared their admiration for Dr. King and his message.
Carpinteria resident and Community of Christ Church Pastor Denise Leichter said Dr. King’s message remains relevant and is still worth supporting.
“I believe that this message, Martin Luther King Jr.’s message, is as critical today as it was when we first started hearing it. We have issues that must be resolved in peaceful ways and in inclusive ways, so I march because the message still matters,” she said.
Greater Hope Baptist Church member Ann Mbacken echoed her pastor’s speech when asked what part of Dr. King’s teachings meant most to her.
“Love. I think his whole ethos was love for humanity,” she said.
Also among the marchers was 97-year-old Holocaust survivor Margaret Singer, who despite her advanced age made the entire trek up State Street, like she does every year.
Asked why she makes it a point to participate in the annual march, Ms. Singer expressed praise for Dr. King and his teachings of human rights.
“I thought it was such a wonderful thing. His talks, whatever he did was wonderful,” she said.
When the throng arrived outside the Arlington, many filed into the theater for a Gospel Concert by the Santa Barbara Community Choir, which performed renditions of civil rights anthems like “We Shall Overcome,” “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” and “Go Down Moses.”