December 27, 2016 – January 1st, 2017
On the Tuesday after Christmas, 35 student-leaders embarked on a six- day journey to learn and live the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King. Participating in the “Life and Legacy of Dr. King” leadership class, students from across the Bay Area, Bakersfield and even Washington State realized that complacency was not going to solve the problems we are facing today. We gave up Winter Break’s comfort to struggle for a movement that Dr. King started in Montgomery, Alabama decades ago.
“This year’s Life and Legacy training provided students with an opportunity to be outside their comfort zones. Even with power outages, the students pushed forward to be the light in darkness,” said Maira Perez Velazquez, director of educational services at the MLK Freedom Center which sponsored the leadership training.
The program inspired hope within students during this dark time when our nation’s leadership is under threat. Throughout the six days, students embodied MLK’s teachings – leadership, self-discipline, and writing speeches on social justice issues affecting our community.
“China,” “Indonesia,” “Argentina,” “China,” “Honduras,” students yelled into the tight circle – the tags they wore indicated the country where youth and adults alike are underpaid to make the clothing that we undervalue in America. In that same lesson on interrelatedness, many realized that it took more than a dozen pairs of hands for their breakfast to reach their plate that morning. That the injustices that directly affect others across the country or the globe, affect us indirectly.
We learned the importance of nonconformists and civic leaders like Dr. King, Cesar Chavez, and Dolores Huerta; and that because of their sacrifices and dedication, we now live with many rights they fought to attain. This was a calling to youth in the room to be the seed of change in our own community, fight for the rights for our future generations, and be the leaders of tomorrow.
Not only were we exposed to King’s values and knowledge, but we had seminars with community activists, leaders and plenary sessions with the community. Bobby Seale, co-founder of the Black Panther Party, offered us his time in a political education session, sharing memorable moments during his time as a political activist in the Black Panthers. He inspired us to continue learning and investigating if we want to pursue social change, and motivated us to start initiatives in our own communities.
Seale indicated that starting programs was the key to the Black Panthers’ success. Those included health clinics, the Intercommunal Youth Institute, Seniors Against a Fearful Environment (SAFE), People’s Free Ambulance Services, and the breakfast program that the FBI labeled a threat to national internal security.
Additionally, former mayor of Oakland, Elihu Harris, stopped to listen to our ‘Means and Ends’ speeches on the last day of the year, and offered us advice and hope. Harris reminded us that non-ignorance is the way of survival through hard times of anger. He said the MLK Freedom Center is a hidden gem at Merritt College for those seeking to have an impact and serve the community.
“Youth is not an excuse, but an opportunity,” the former mayor said, motivating us to take action in our community.
He saw potential in the room; the next wave of activists, civic leaders, policy makers and mayors sat in that room.