By: Michael Mott, Reporter Auburn Journal
What does MLK mean to you?
“He’s a symbol of my youth and the civil rights struggle. It’s important to me to keep the flame alive, especially now. We have to wake up.” – Claudia Stone
“Martin Luther King means to me not so much as an individual, but what one person can do to make change with their actions and how they carry themselves. Personally, I think there’s still a lot to be done and Martin would think so, too. The good news is there are still events like this that are grassroots, community- based; where we can get back to loving our neighbors and getting better.” – Minus Pough
“The most important factor, for me, is he’s someone to look up to. He said so many beautiful things and I look up to him as someone who reached out to others and bridged gaps. He taught me that you don’t need to be the person making the speech, if you can make that connection to each other.” – Jayme Forster
“Light and darkness. His quote, that ‘Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that’, tells me you cannot combat hate with hatred; especially when you’re trying to develop connections within a community.” – Austin Mullen
“He’s a true symbol of freedom, unity, positivity and peace, a role-model and a leader. He makes me want to be someone not afraid to stand up for what is right.” – Joseph Torres
A poet called on the crowd to embrace being role models. Reverends called for peace.
The General Gomez Arts and Events Center was filled Monday morning with residents interested in furthering King’s legacy.
“It takes communication, humility and empathy to understand one another and each others’ struggles,” said Rocky Zapata, a leader of Auburn Hip Hop Congress, who helped organize the event.
People young and old filled the space, diverse in make-up and life experiences. Children held signs calling for peace and love.
The first speaker, Nooria Munir, is vice-president of the Sierra College student body. She is also a Muslim and fears for her faith’s future in the U.S.
“Salaam,” she said, welcoming the group with a greeting in Arabic-speaking countries that means peace.
Munir described feeling despair after the election and anti-Islamic attitudes rising in the U.S.
“My religion is not violent; people are,” Munir said. “Love and respect all people and don’t leave one another behind.”
Kohler, from the Hupa, Yurok and Karuk tribes from Northern California, shared about traveling to Standing Rock and documenting the action there.
She felt angry there, but also saw young people protesting peacefully and was inspired.
“My mother taught me my whole life: ‘You are either part of the problem or the solution. There is no Switzerland,’” Kohler said. “You don’t have to be the person being hit by water. Say a prayer, or divest. It takes all of us.”
Doris Romero and Tomas Evangelista shared about their journey as recipients of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, a temporary immigration status allowing them to stay in the U.S. that may end under the new administration.
“Our request is simple — let’s talk,” Romero said. “Our immigration system is broken. I choose now to fight for life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”
Leslie and Halina Janusz performed a song about King. Vanessa Poh ley called on people to not accept injustices. Rahma Jamaal, executive director of the national Hip Hop Congress, called for everyone to listen to hip hop and each others’ struggles.
D. Pierre Butler, a poet, brought the room to a silence while calling for people to be role models.
“I am hurting inside, the way we treat other people,” Butler said, after describing how he was chased by police for feeding the hungry. “I want to say it’s happy and positive, but it looks a little bleak.”
“Anybody can serve and you don’t need a college degree, only a heart full of grace,” Butler continued. “I wish to be a role model. We must live together as brother and sister or we will perish together.”
“People fear each other because they don’t know each other. They don’t know each other because they don’t communicate with each other,” he said, quoting King,” Love is the only force capable of turning an enemy into a friend.”
At the end, Sierra Foothill Unitarian Universalists Reverends Lynn Gardner and Wendy Bartel called for furthering MLK’s dream.
“We acknowledge all those who weren’t sure what they were going to offer to the movement and who showed up anyway,” Bartel said.