With clouds overhead and a chance of rain coming down, a crowd of more than 50 people gathered in Central Park for the second annual Unity Walk to commemorate the life and work of Martin Luther King Jr.
The city of Santa Clarita hosted the Unity Walk for Santa Clarita Valley residents to join and listen to guest speakers celebrating King. The event was established in partnership with the city’s Human Relations Roundtable and other community members in 2022.
“It’s my honor and privilege to be here with you all today as we celebrate Martin Luther King Jr.,” said Santa Clarita Mayor Jason Gibbs. “This day honors the iconic American civil rights leader who dedicated his life to achieving equality for people of all colors.”
In attendance at the city’s Unity Walk was Rep. Mike Garcia, R-Santa Clarita, Assemblywoman Pilar Schiavo, D-Chatsworth, Santa Clarita Valley Sheriff’s Station Capt. Justin Diez, and other local leaders. Gibbs welcomed everyone who attended and shared some words with the crowd.
MLK Day is commemorated each year, but Gibbs tasked those in attendance to not wait until King’s the annual commemoration to take his inspirational quotes to heart. King’s message and actions should be something everyone strives to live by every single day, he added.
Gibbs quoted King and reiterated the importance of love, moral excellence, generosity and service to one another.
“This is something that I’m proud to say is sewn into the fabric of the Santa Clarita community,” Gibbs said. “Each and every day we work together to give support to our neighbors and overcome any obstacles that are in our way.”
“You see this in our local organizations and nonprofits that continually serve our residents who are in need. There’s an incredible force of volunteers in Santa Clarita, who regularly give their time, skills and money to those in need,” he added.
Garcia gave a brief speech, in which he focused on the Constitution and U.S. history.
“Even today, while we’re not perfect, we continue to get better,” he said.
President of local NAACP chapter objects
Valerie Bradford, president of the NAACP Santa Clarita, who attended and spoke at last year’s Unity Walk, opposed this year’s walk and expressed her frustration on a Facebook post.
Bradford wrote in a statement to The Signal that there are multiple organization in the city that hold, support and put into practice the beliefs and mission of King, including the NAACP, BSCV, Jack and Jill, and The Devine 9. These organizations all represent the Black community, and none of them were consulted in the planning of the celebration, she said.
“While this is the second year that the city of Santa Clarita has chosen to observe the holiday, they do so blindly, disrespectfully, and without input or consideration of the local Black community and leaders of the city,” Bradford wrote in an e-mail to The Signal.
Santa Clarita city officials were unreachable for a response to Bradford’s statement as of publication of the article.
‘Day of Service’
Pastor Julius Harper of the Santa Clarita Christian Fellowship Church gave an invocation as part of the speaker portion of the event, and April Scott-Goss, an arts commissioner for the city whose father knew King, addressed the crowd and read some words honoring King.
“On this day of service in honor of the late Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and in step with the world of dreamers, make a change that will help us to grow into community of love,” Scott-Goss said. “Be the first to offer a hand, a kind word to any and all who come your way.”
“Do not hesitate to take a stand, to change the world for the better. I am King, you are King, we are a community of MLK,” she continued.
Janice Johnson, a sophomore at Academy of the Canyons, said she was on the school’s equity and diversity collaborative, which was formed in 2020, to facilitate conversation of promoting diversity and inclusiveness. She has also participated in the city’s Human Relations Roundtable.
“As I ended my speech, I would like to leave you all with one question today,” Johnson said. “As you celebrate our beloved Dr. King’s life… how will you go out into the world and a make a change just like Dr. Martin Luther King did?”
Gibbs concluded the speaker portion of the event, and attendees walked a quarter-mile through Central Park. Attendees walked around the park and the leading group held a banner that said, “Together We Are Better.”