A crowd of about 100 people gathered around UCSB’s Eternal Flame memorial near Buchanan Hall on Monday to celebrate the birth and life of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
The group came to the memorial around 1 p.m. to attend a ceremony that included speeches, dancing and singing. The UCSB Baha’i Club and members of the Baha’i community in Santa Barbara organized the event, along with the Building Bridges Community Coalition, a local coalition that promotes racial unity within the community. Anna Gabeler, the event’s creator and coordinator who started the ceremony at UCSB eight years ago, said she feels King continues to represent the notion of racial unity today. She said people should practice being world citizens for one day out of the year, as well as beyond King’s birthday.
“The betterment of the world will not be accomplished unless one’s duties are fulfilled through deeds, not just words,” said Ardalan Samandari, a representative of the UCSB Baha’i Club.
Attendees ranged in age and race, but the majority of the celebrators raised their hands when a speaker asked if they remember the day King was assassinated on April 4, 1968.
Speakers also emphasized the importance of remembering King and his ideas. Dr. Hymon Johnson, a professor at Antioch University who has worked at UCSB as staff, faculty and administrator, said remembering King was especially important because it can help to remind people of King’s teachings.
“It’s hard to fathom, yet Harvard University and other studies have concluded that the public schools are more segregated now than they were when Dr. King was killed,” Johnson said in a speech at the event. “…[King’s] heart would be severely troubled by the rogue activities of our government and its corporate partners, both at home and abroad.”
Brice Taylor, the event’s host, said he appreciated that the celebration of Martin Luther King Jr. Day was held in front of the Eternal Flame memorial, which the university dedicated to three great assassinated leaders in 1968 – King, John F. Kennedy and Robert F. Kennedy. He said it shows the impressive thought and vision on the part of UCSB. Taylor also said that a memorial honoring two white men and one black man was an especially appropriate symbol of racial unity.
Sarah Wersan, a Santa Barbara resident, said she attended the celebration in order to appreciate King with other people who believed in his words.
“There’s a difference between sitting at home, depressed [and] watching TV and being outside with other people,” she said.
Edward Schlesinger, a Santa Barbara resident and member of Santa Barbara’s Baha’i community, said the number of UCSB students and members of the community willing to participate in the ceremony and celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. Day was inspiring.
“The remarkable energy that has been around for eight years gives me hope,” Schlesinger said.
Martin Luther King Jr. Day is celebrated on the third Monday of every January. Ronald Reagan signed the holiday into law on Nov. 2, 1983, and the first official nationwide celebration of Martin Luther King Jr. Day occurred on Jan. 20, 1986.