Residents came from points across Long Beach to celebrate the life and legacy of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on Monday.
“We’re banding together, from the North Park area to the West End to the Canals to the East End, the central town and the highrises of Long Beach,” said Jacquetta Odom, a founding member of the Long Beach Martin Luther King Center, “and we will continue to move forward with determination to keep the dream alive in this community and across the country.”
Residents and visitors attended several events on Monday to honor King six days after what would have been his 90th birthday. City officials hosted the third annual MLK Tribute at City Hall, followed by a march to the MLK Center, on Riverside Boulevard, from West Chester Street. The march route — which was originally set to begin at Laurelton Boulevard — was shortened because of the 7-degree weather.
“Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was the chief spokesperson for nonviolent activism in the civil rights movement, who successfully protested racial discrimination in federal and state law,” Rabbi Eli Goodman, of Chabad of the Beaches, said. “As a country, law enforcement must continue to confront ideologies of hatred and ensure that they don’t turn from thought and speech into action.”
County Legislator Denise Ford, State Assemblywoman Melissa Miller, State Sen. Todd Kaminsky and local clergy joined city officials and other community leaders to speak on this year’s theme of “the transforming power of love.” Members of Girl Scout Troop 2005 and the Long Beach STEAM Academy recited some of King’s quotes, and the Nehemiah Project, a local choir group, performed for dozens of people in City Hall.
“Today is a time to reflect on his legacy and remember the lessons he has taught us,” Miller said. “His memory should not just serve as an inspiration for African-Americans, but for every race, to strive for better for our country and ourselves.”
“We gather to acknowledge the incredible life of this leader who changed, through his message of love and community, the path of our history,” City Council Vice President Chumi Diamond said. “At a time when we see what seems to have become socially acceptable and we can feel a lack of tolerance growing all around us, we, as a community, must use this day to pause, to end hate and to reaffirm our commitment as a community to the path set forth by Doctor King.”
Despite frigid weather, hundreds made their way to the MLK Center after the march to hear guest speakers, including U.S. Rep. Kathleen Rice, watch dance performances by the Movement of God Dance Ministry and eat lunch.
Many speakers said it was important to consider the ideals of love and tolerance that King preached, especially now, as the country is riven by tumultuous politics.
“It’s a sad fact today that King’s vision is not a reality in America, or anywhere else in the world,” Odom said. “But it is possible to say that his vision affected the United States.”
“Dr. King did not fight as hard as he did for our country to stand divided and ultimately fall,” Miller said. “Instead, he fought for liberty and justice for all, for all the individuals who have built our communities and kept our country strong.”
Additionally, Cliff Skudin, an international big-wave surfer and co-owner of Skudin Surf, announced that he would partner with the MLK Center to launch a surf club for children.
Nikhil Goyal, a local sociologist and educator, was the event’s keynote speaker. “Today I want to make the case that King’s vision, wisdom and ideas are more relevant in our society than ever before,” Goyal said. “Folks, we’ve got some unfinished business to attend to. With the political will, we can create an anti-racist social democracy where no family or communities get left behind. To paraphrase King, freedom is not something that is just given to you on a platter by the powerful. It must be demanded, it must be struggled for and constantly defended. We stand on the shoulders of our ancestors who defied political gravity and risked everything for us to enjoy the rights we have today.”
Other speakers echoed that sentiment.
“In 2019, as all of us have already shared, the hate rhetoric is at an all-time high,” City Councilwoman Anissa Moore said. “There are many that would seek to divide us based on our race, our gender, our religion — hatred of all forms has reared its ugly head. The past is unfortunately repeating itself, but we must stand as a nation and stand as a city, steadfastly holding onto the words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. like never before.”