CSUMB and community Zoom together for Martin Luther King Jr. Day

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. | Rowland Scherman, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

January 18, 2022

By Walter Ryce

For 36 years, since 1986, Martin Luther King Jr. Day has been celebrated annually in Seaside with a community procession followed by a program of speeches by dignitaries. Last year, due to COVID-19, organizers were close to cancelling it.

But Steven Goings, a CSUMB counselor and faculty as well as a civil rights activist, offered to help them shift it to a virtual Zoom program. Which they did.

This time around, Alice Jordan, one of the main organizers along with Betty Lusk, reached out again to CSUMB to reprise the virtual modality.

A team of CSUMB folks signed on to help make it happen, including Goings, Clery Director Shanieka Jones-Firek, Associate Vice President for Inclusive Excellence and Chief Diversity Officer Brian Corpening, Administrative Assistant Bernadette Ortiz, Associate Professor and Department Chair Vanessa Lopez-Litteton, and Special Events Assistant Marlena Rose.

Goings said they provided technical assistance, promotion, greetings and remarks during the virtual program, which occurred on the Monday of Jan. 17.

About 200 people were in attendance at 1pm. They included folks like former State Senator Bill Monning, Monterey County Branch NAACP President Yvonne Thomas, LULAC President Francisco Lopez, Seaside Mayor Ian Ogelsby, Seaside Councilmember Dave Pacheco, former Community Foundation for Monterey County Board President Birt Johnson, Seaside civil rights activist Helen Rucker.

The program opened with a video of the Golden Gospel Singers performing an aching and defiant “Oh Freedom,” set to black and white images of Martin Luther King Jr. and the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s.

Jordan expressed thanks to the city of Seaside, CSUMB, Links Incorporated, Kiwanis International, and the National Panhellenic Council, a coalition of Black fraternities and sororities also known as the Divine Nine.

“The Divine Nine represents 6 million members worldwide,” Jordan said. “They’ve formed a committee to call our communities to action.”

That call to action, in response to the degradation of voting rights and access, would be a recurring theme. It came up in the opening prayer by Rev. Anthony Dunham.

Yvonne Thomas, president of the Monterey County Branch of the NAACP, said, “Maya Angelou will be the first black woman to be portrayed on the quarter. The flip side of the coin is we’re faced with voter suppression bills being passed not to protect our vote, but to deny them.”

The first guest speaker was Dr. Gloria Ponce-Rodriguez, an administrator in the office of College and Career Readiness at Fresno Unified School District. She drove home the importance of education as a pathway to a better life.

“Financial and emotional reasons account for the top reasons for college students to drop out,” she said. “That’s especially true for African American Latino students…I graduated from Fresno State. We have excellent colleges. But the social and emotional needs of students is very important.”

She touted HBCUs, mostly in the East Coast and the South, for producing 85% of African American physicians, accounting for 25% of Black college grads, and for being the first public state institutions of higher learning.

The keynote speaker, Marc Morial, a lawyer and CEO of the National Urban League, addressed the assembled by pre-recorded video.

“The Divine Nine [fraternities and sororities] was founded not for partying, but to make a difference in the lives of people,” he said. “I want to issue a call to action on the issue of voting rights and democracy. It’s important to stand up right now for civic engagement and the right to vote. I’m counting on all of you to be civic leaders, to raise your voices, to coordinate your activities, to push the community.”

Then college sophomore and former Seaside resident Sabria Henry-Hunter spoke, reminding the assembled of Congressman John Lewis’ exhortation to “Get into good trouble.”

Jordan closed by thanking her pastor, the speakers, and CSUMB for the technical assistance.

“You don’t have to be face to get some things done,” she said. But added, “Next year I hope to be face to face.”

Goings ended by playing a video of kids of Seaside’s Palenke Arts program singing and rapping a cover of the John Legend/Common collaboration “Glory.”