Citizens gathered across the Inland Empire on Martin Luther King Day to celebrate the life of a of an international hero in the struggle for Civil Rights.
About 300 people gathered at the Victor Valley College Performing Arts Center on January 13, to celebrate King’s Birthday and to ensure his dream continues to live on through future generations.
Prior to the event, a VIP social hour, sponsored by McKay Mortuaries, was held, where gospel singer Wanda Michelle Cooper spoke of the roots of African Americans’ beginning in Africa. She explained, “I have been on a mission the last couple of years; my goal is to preserve and teach young people and everybody our Negro spirituals.”
Cooper explained that Negro spirituals were sometimes used as signals while they were making their way on the Underground Railroad to bring African American slaves to freedom.
McKay Mortuaries Owner Mark McKay shared the importance of African American historical figures. He talked about the first African American Astronaut, Guion S. Bluford Jr., the first African American President Barack Obama and his wife Michelle, tennis champions Serena and Venus Williams, Poet Maya Angelou, and Julian Bond, a civil rights leader, Georgia State Legislator and head of the Southern Poverty Law Center and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).
Poet Eli West described modern slavery as being the incarceration of African Americans in the United States and recited a poem entitled “Rise up Black people,” encouraging African Americans to remember where they came from, put aside their differences, wake up, join together, recognize and avoid the trap of drugs and alcohol, educate each other, wise up and rise up.
The event began with an invocation by Pastor Rae Reece followed by host Patrick Patton III introducing a program that included a wide variety of thought provoking presentations beginning with the singing of the African American National Anthem by Cooper.
The annual event, organized by the 2018 High Desert Black Heritage Committee, has successfully held for the past 30 years according to its vice president Tamara Thomas. Thomas reminded the audience of heroes lost to violence, racial profiling and hate, quoting King, “Everybody can do something to work towards a better society.”
The audience then viewed a documentary by Janet Jackson detailing the early deaths today of young African Americans at the hands of law enforcement across the country.
The program included dramatizations performed by Women of Noble Character, poems by Rashad Johnson of the Victor Valley College (VVC) Drama Department, “Lift Every Voice” performed by Wanda Collins, “Inner City Blues” performed by Eddie Martin, “I have a Dream” performed by VVC Choir Member Ebon Bracy, “Glory” performed by the Emmanuel Temple Youth Choir, and dances by members of High Desert Royal Diamonds and Unity Dance Studio.
VVC Black Student Union President Ebony Durham and its former president Taylor Evans addressed the audience, “Martin Luther King had a dream and we are here to continue that dream and connect to one another.”
Following a video by Democracy Now retelling the bus boycott held in Montgomery where African Americans refused to board segregated buses, Dr. Rita Ramirez-Dean, democratic candidate running for the 8th congressional district against United States Congressman Paul Cook, told the audience, “The Montgomery Boycott was more than just political and social, it was the beginning of the end of us being abused, forgotten, neglected and invisible.”
“It was the beginning of freedom and We Shall Overcome gave us hope, it gave us faith, it gave us freedom,” Ramirez-Dean voiced.
“I had to ask myself what does MLK day mean to me, it came to me, “life is like a relay race, one generation passes the baton of life onto the next,” 2018 High Desert Black Heritage Committee President Thomas Lee reminded the audience and concluded, “So, I leave you with a question, ‘How are we going to pass the baton to the next generation? To our children?’”