Even though its campus was closed, Santa Barbara City College was buzzing with activism and courage Saturday morning.
Nearly 65 years after the 54-mile, four-day walk from Selma, Alabama, to the state capital of Montgomery in support of voting rights, dozens gathered at the main campus of City College for a walk of their own. Though this walk didn’t include the danger and uncertainty that was experienced along the Edmund Pettus Bridge years ago, the spirit of inclusion was alive and well.
“The dream is ours today,” said The Rev. Roderick Murray, of New Friendship Baptist Church, as the group made its way from East to West Campus. “We get to tell the story about the dream and the walk and the sacrifices that were made.”
Singing along to “We Shall Overcome,” the group of nearly three dozen walked to the Fé Bland Forum on West Campus, where they heard from Santa Barbara High Alumna Regina Moore Dais on what it means to cross the bridge.
“Crossing the bridge today, here and now in 2020, means that we as a community, and as a nation, have come a long way,” she said. “The societal changes that have happened in the past have led us to this event today. Many Americans and immigrants have flocked to this country looking for a better way of life, and as a result of experiencing some form of dehumanization and some form of racial discrimination. This is one of many reasons Dr. Martin Luther King Day is celebrated and honored.”
Ms. Moore Davis admitted that as a young woman, the concept of crossing a bridge didn’t have much meaning to her. The event happened before she was born and she viewed it as just another milestone of the Civil Rights movement, an anecdote in her history books.
“Crossing the bridge has served its purpose in history, but that time has past and now is a new day,” she said.
Ms. Moore Davis then challenged the community to solve what she called “covert and systemic racism” that is still alive and well today. Things such as equal pay and equal treatment in education, employment, housing, and business ownership, as well as restoring affirmative action and establishing a legal fund for minorities who need legal assistance.
“Crossing the bridge reminds me that racism is constantly evolving, and what it looked like when Martin Luther King was crossing the bridge was nothing like it looks today,” Ms. Moore Davis said. “Back in the 1960s, there was overt racism that could be seen with the physical eyes and easily quantified.
“Today’s racism, there’s no physical sign to tell us that discrimination exists. Many people are being discriminated against and don’t even know it,” she said. “It’s harder to combat and defeat something that’s obscure.
“Today we have re-lived crossing the bridge, so hopefully this will inspire us to affect change in our community.”
Saturday’s keynote speaker was Wendy Sims-Moten, board member for the Santa Barbara Unified School District and organizer and chair of the African American Women of Santa Barbara County. She opened by sharing a conversation she had with a friend about New Year’s resolutions. Rather than holding herself to a goal, Ms. Sims-Moten’s friend chooses a word to live by throughout the year. As she thought of her own word for 2020, Ms. Sims-Moten thought about what it took for Dr. King and others to make the long walk across the Edmund Pettus Bridge.
“They were moving toward a cause because we needed the right to vote,” she said. “They were walking on a bridge to peril and violence, marching into violence. As I thought about that, and by the way that’s just 55 short years ago, I couldn’t just go by one word; I had to go by two.
“The words that kept coming to me, and they grew louder today, was uncommon courage,” she said. “You can’t have everyday courage trying to go make a change when you’re going to be facing batons, billy clubs and tear gas. You must have uncommon courage.”
Shortly after completing the walk across campus, Ms. Sims-Moten said she could still feel her heart beating – not from physical anguish, but from thinking about the doubt and fear others felt as they marched to Montgomery, Alabama, for the third time.
She also thought of the uncommon courage displayed by Harriett Tubman, who was quoted as saying “If you hear the dogs, keep going. If you see the torches in the woods, keep going. If there’s shouting after you, keep going. Don’t ever stop. Keep going. If you want a taste of freedom, keep going.
“If we want to rule out hate, if we want to rule out indifference, we must keep going,” Ms. Sims-Moten said. “And we must do it together. We must summon our uncommon courage.”
The new decade brings a new mercy and a new opportunity and with plenty of work left to be done, Ms. Sims-Moten encouraged the audience to remain active and engaged for the long hall. She compared the community’s courage to a choir staggering their breath. When one person gets a little tired, there are others who help sustain the song.
“The best way that we can continue to honor Dr. Martin Luther King and the folks that crossed the Pettus Bridge is not to be silent and hope trouble goes away and dies down,” she said. “Rather, it must be now that we summon our uncommon courage and not grow weary in speaking truth to power.
“It is a time that we must speak when children and families are being separated, when all lives don’t matter. Let me pause on the all lives don’t matter. All lives actually should matter, but when some part of those ‘all lives’ are being disproportionately impacted in a negative way, we must speak and we must act.”
The same holds true for the deficiencies in the state’s public education system, as well as attacks on the faith community, LBGTQ organizations and acts of gun violence, she said.
“When we leave this place today, we take with us a renewed strength and inspiration ¾ not for just this moment and not for just this day, but for all throughout the year,” Ms. Sims-Moten said. “We will not worry about the short-term costs of speaking the truth, because when you start to speak some truth you may lose some friends… but we know that’s okay, because the long-term benefit sits a better humanity.”
The audience was then entertained with traditional Ring Shout dancing, which originated in West Africa and was developed during slavery. This style of dance involved call and response, singing a capella, clapping, stomping and dancing in a circle. The group was led by Frances Moore, who co-founded the Santa Barbara Ring Shout group.
Ms. Moore was joined with eight others on stage, as the group danced to songs such as “One of These Days,” “My Soul Will Be At Rest,” and “Oh Daniel” – as well as a song written by Ms. Moore titled “Freedom Song.”
As the audience departed the forum, the attendees were given a hand-written message from Dr. King from the Martin Luther King Institute at Stanford University. The notes included a photo of the actual message written by Dr. King with a typed out transcript, as well as the date when the message was written.