People of all backgrounds, ages and races gathered together as a community to celebrate the life and work of Martin Luther King Jr. on Monday — and even with the rain, hundreds of Santa Clarita residents attended the unity walk with hope in their hearts for a better future.
The Martin Luther King Jr. Day unity walk took place at Central Park on Monday with hundreds in attendance to walk around the park to recognize the many marches King was involved with in his peaceful protests across the nation.
The program included many community stakeholders speaking about how King impacted their lives, the importance of voting and continuing King’s legacy.
The city-hosted event was a collaboration with the city of Santa Clarita’s Human Relations Roundtable and was the first event of its kind honoring King in Santa Clarita.
Speakers included Mayor Laurene Weste, Valerie Bradford, president of the Santa Clarita Valley chapter of the NAACP, Pastor Anthony Dorris, student representatives Pratika Prasad and Samantha McCray, and Cherise Moore, a member of the William S. Hart Union High School District board of trustees who also serves as co-chair of the Human Relations Roundtable.
Additionally, Anitra King Ballou sang “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” known as the Black national anthem. Finally, the Valencia High School marching band’s drum line performed pieces to motivate those walking and amplify the attendees’ energy.
The unity walk began at 9 a.m. with speeches, and when the speeches concluded, the band performed pieces that signaled the beginning of the quarter-mile walk and concluded at the finish line.
Leading the unity walk was Weste, student representatives, City Council members, Hart district board members, SCV Sheriff’s Capt. Justin Diez, Assemblywoman Suzette Valladares, R-Santa Clarita, and many other community leaders.
Weste spoke on the diversity of Santa Clarita and the importance of coming together as a community to remember King’s enduring message of faith and commitment to peaceful change.
“We have proved over and over again in the last few years that there’s nothing that the Santa Clarita community cannot overcome if we are supporting one another,” Weste said. “Today’s gathering is an example of that, and we have people here representing many facets of our communities.”
Moore spoke after Weste and quoted King in her remarks. She mentioned the protests following the 2020 death of George Floyd and the local need for a human relations roundtable.
“Darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that,” Moore said. “Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that.”
Additionally, Moore said she was proud of being a resident of Santa Clarita Valley and was pleased that the city finally held its inaugural MLK Day event.
“Just two years ago, there was nothing. No celebration of Martin Luther King Jr. in Santa Clarita at all,” Moore said. “People were leaving and driving to other cities to celebrate this special day, but look at us today.”
Moore closed her speech by mentioning the importance of voting rights and the struggle currently faced by restrictions to voting rights. She reminded the crowd of the importance of coming together regardless of what divides people as a community.
“The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands in times of challenge, that he can fight for the rights of not only Black people but for all people who face barriers and challenges,” Moore said.
Bradford, who is president of the NAACP in Santa Clarita, discussed the importance of honoring the life and work of King. She said people today still face many of the same voting struggles that King worked to resolve.
“It’s a testament to his life and work, but also a reminder of the cost for civil and voting rights, and in 2022, we are still fighting the same thing he marched and fought for in 1965.”
Bradford said she wants the young people who attended the events, including her children, to be educated and know King’s history and work.
She added that she wants the younger community members to know what their parents are working for and figure out how the youth will continue the legacy of those who struggled for civil rights in the nation.
“We need to register to vote, we need to vote, we need to enter the political arena,” Bradford said. “So if you are not registered, I urge you to walk over to that table today, use your phone, scan the QR code or pick up an application, but whatever you do, let’s vote.”
For Terry Collier, booster club president of Valencia High School marching band, it was essential to include them and contribute — even though it was a school day off for the students.
Collier said she looks forward to building the community through giving, more diverse events highlighting leaders like King and incorporating students with volunteer and learning opportunities.
“It shouldn’t have taken this long, but we’re here now, and the city recognizes that the celebration is really important,” Collier said. “I think it will only build year after year, and understanding that to be able to pour into the community, especially our children, we have to pour into their minds, and their spirit the importance of recognizing civil rights.”