San Diego County Unified School District

01/18/2020 | News release | Distributed by Public on 01/17/2020 20:16

Honoring Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. through service, celebration

This Monday, all San Diego schools will be closed, just as they are every January on Martin Luther King Jr. Day. The holiday honors the legacy of King, the man who dedicated his life to the struggle for racial equality in our country, who espoused and embodied the virtue of nonviolence in achieving these goals, and who still inspires millions to this day.

The dream lives on

'How do you carry the message of Dr. King? How do you live his dream?'

The question carried over the loudspeaker and hung in the damp morning air, bringing silent reflection to the crowd. It had been raining steadily, but the weather did little to stifle the excitement of hundreds of students gathered at Knox Middle School.

Representing campuses from across Southeast San Diego, nearly 400 students and staff had congregated at Knox for the annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. March, a uniquely school-driven celebration now in its 43rd year.

'I am living Dr. King's dream right now,' responded Anthony, a sixth grader. 'I go to school, I don't fight with anyone. I want to make my mom proud and that's why I'm here.'

To his left and right, Anthony's fellow students had answered the question as well, in the form of posters they had designed specifically for the march.

'The dream lives on!' read one middle schooler's sign. A row back, younger peers from Nye Elementary held a larger banner: 'Because of him, we can!' adorning a skillfully drawn image of King. 'Everyone deserves equality!' read another.

Vice Principal Angelica Hueso-Garcia had first posed the question of living King's 'dream' to students for the schoolwide MLK poster contest, an annual tradition at Knox.

'Our students and staff look forward to this all year,' she said. 'We even had kids going into their classrooms early from lunch and spending free time working together on their posters. The project shows us that when we collaborate, when we communicate, we are all winners.'

Rounding out the rainy morning celebration, three students recited King's 'I Have a Dream' speech from memory for the crowd. Cheer squads, drumlines, and JROTC groups from Lincoln and Morse High Schools then led a marching contingent around the block for the entire neighborhood to see.

'I think it's important for us to do this,' seventh grader Breanna said of the march. 'Martin Luther King Day means we remember to show kindness, to be nice to each other… and it doesn't matter if we look different, or come from different places.'

Then, as the crowd proceeded to march back to 49th Street, the smiling faces peered upwards. The sun was coming out.

Not just a holiday, but a day of service

'Make it a day on - not a day off.'

That's the Americorps slogan frequently used to capture the spirit of Martin Luther King Jr. Day, the only federal holiday specifically designated as a national day of service.

For many, it's also a call to action - one that will be heeded by hundreds of San Diego students this weekend.

As students marched at Knox, a sizable coalition of students and community members were preparing for another King-themed event on the other side of town.

Today, Saturday Jan. 18, students and staff from Mission Bay High School will take part in their 2nd Annual MLK Service Day at the Bay, a partnership with Mission Bay's ACES after-school tutoring program coordinated by Dr. Ron Lancia and UC San Diego.

Last year, Mission Bay and UC San Diego students created a mural of King in the school's cafeteria along with the word 'community,' highlighting the unity that is present in the diverse Mission Bay campus.

This year, a mural will be created of Dolores Huerta, along with the phrase 'risk-taker,' referencing one of the International Baccalaureate Learner Profiles emphasized in Mission Bay High School's IB program.

'We're expecting more than 250 volunteers to participate in various campus beautification projects,' said Lancia. 'This includes a mural of Dolores Huerta alongside MLK in the cafeteria, murals in our marine science lab and the counseling office, a revamping of our teacher lounge and workroom, the development of a college corner in the library, and a schoolwide cleanup.'

Beyond the physical projects volunteers will take part in, Lancia says the partnership honors King's legacy through its emphasis on building community both within the campus and in San Diego as a whole.

The fight for MLK Day: A brief history

As Lancia described, MLK Day embodies the best values of a strong and united community. But it was not always the unique service-oriented day we know today, nor did it face an easy path to become a holiday at all.

The holiday honoring King was first recognized in 1986, more than two years after being signed into law, and only after an arduous legislative journey.

The federal effort to honor King fell short in 1979, failing to secure passage in the House of Representatives. The push for a King holiday would not gain serious momentum for another four years, this time passing the House with overwhelming support. Legislation to make King's birthday a federal holiday was eventually signed into law on November 2nd, 1983.

Thus became the recognition of the third Monday in January as Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

It would be another decade before the holiday became officially associated with King's spirit of service, however.

Congressman John Lewis, the last living speaker from the famed 1963 March on Washington where King delivered his 'I Have a Dream' speech, introduced legislation to recognize MLK Day as a national day of service in 1994.

With the passage of Lewis' bill, the King Holiday and Service Act, Congress officially charged the Corporation for National and Community Service with the task of encouraging all Americans to volunteer and improve their communities on the holiday each year.

Lewis, who fought for civil rights as chair of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee in the 1960s, encouraged the next generation of students to 'get in the way' of inequality and serve their communities during a 2018 visit to San Diego.

Speaking to a packed Morse High School gymnasium, Lewis recalled King's message that urged him to get involved.

'The words of Martin Luther King Jr. inspired me to find a way to 'get in the way,'' Lewis told the students. 'We all have to get involved.'

In one conversation at Morse, the lasting impact of King's message was especially clear. Lewis told students how his Freedom Ride bus had been attacked in 1961 by a Ku Klux Klan member, who decades later sought Lewis out to ask for forgiveness.

'It showed how people can change. We all can change.'

Honoring King's legacy this weekend

Looking to celebrate in the spirit of MLK? Join the action at Mission Bay High School, or check out some of these events and volunteer opportunities going on in America's Finest City this weekend:

40th Annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day Parade

12th Annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Interfaith Service

Cabrillo Nat'l Monument MLK Day Volunteer Event

Worldbeat MLK Day Cultural Celebration

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Educator's Breakfast