Valerie Bradford spoke about the violence that can be seen across the United States today. That, she said, is not what the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. would have wanted his country to look like.
Monday saw people across the U.S. celebrate King’s legacy with Martin Luther King Jr. Day, including at Central Park in Saugus, where more than 500 people walked together at the city of Santa Clarita’s MLK Unity Walk.
MLK Day has been celebrated nationally since 1986 on the third Monday in January after President Ronald Reagan signed a bill three years earlier marking it as a federal holiday.
After Santa Clarita Mayor Cameron Smyth welcomed attendees on what turned out to be a warm winter morning — and after Pastor Christopher Montella of St. Stephens Episcopal Church delivered the convocation and Shanice, a Santa Clarita resident, sang the national anthem — Bradford, president of the Santa Clarita chapter of the NAACP, stepped up to the microphone to deliver the keynote speech. She focused on King’s life, how he became a preacher to follow in his father’s footsteps and his efforts to fight against segregation without using violence.
The last point is what the city and Bradford focused on, with Monday’s event having the theme of “It Starts with Me: Shifting the Cultural Climate Through the Study and Practice of Kingian Nonviolence.”
“The NAACP has and still does support Dr. King’s philosophy of non-violence,” Bradford said. “The march on Washington (D.C.), the march from Selma to Montgomery across the Pettus Bridge, these are situations where Dr. King put his money where his mouth was. This is where he walked the talk. And while everyone didn’t and still doesn’t agree with a non-violent conviction, 250,000 people marched on Washington with him, and less than six months after they walked across the Pettus Bridge, President (Lyndon) Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act.”
Bradford noted that today’s society seems to have forgotten those teachings.
“This theme could not be more appropriate as we attempt to live our lives and navigate a time unfortunately, violent,” Bradford said. “Dr. King said, ‘Let no man pull you low enough to hate him.’ But in 2023, we set a record for mass shootings. In 2023, the nation’s 10 largest cities saw a major surge in hate crime — anti-Asian, anti-Jewish, anti-Black, anti-gay, anti-Muslim — gun violence, protester violence, you name it. And today’s solution to a disagreement is the exact opposite of Dr. King’s philosophy of non-violence.”
While Bradford spoke of a need to remove violence from the country, Montella talked of King’s message of unconditional love and the hope for a brighter future.
“My brother Martin believed that unarmed truth and unconditional love would have the final word in reality, that right temporarily defeated is stronger than evil triumphant,” Montella said. “He believed that even amid the mortar bursts and whining bullets of his time, there was still hope for a brighter tomorrow. How timely his words feel today.”
After Bradford spoke, two young girls were introduced — Lyric Monet Page and Alex Rutherford — to read a poem.
After both reading a section of the poem alone, the two girls recited the final line together: “Let us celebrate our differences with pride, and stand together, side by side, for in our diversity, we find our might, and in our unity we shine bright.”
Brenda Lee Eager then wrapped up the first half of the event by singing “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” which saw members of the audience join in to finish things off.
After the presentations and speeches, attendees walked together around Central Park, just behind the West Ranch High School drum line, which provided a rhythm for people to march to.
Participants could be seen speaking with City Council members Laurene Weste, Jason Gibbs and Marsha McLean during that walk, as well as Assemblywoman Pilar Schiavo, D-Chatsworth, and Montella. Councilman Bill Miranda and Rep. Mike Garcia, R-Santa Clarita, were also present on Monday, among other local dignitaries.
Schiavo said those talks focused on how she can work with others to make society a better place, as King would have wanted.
“I was able to do a lot of work around this march, really talking with folks about making sure that we’re bringing forward his teachings into the work that we do and the good work that we do,” Schiavo said. “I was talking with folks about housing, I was talking with folks about how we build the kind of community that we want to see that supports each other.”
Lemon cake and water were provided to attendees after the walk by Mississippi Fried Georgia. Attendees were also encouraged to donate to the Santa Clarita Valley Food Pantry, as well as write down words of inspiration on a poster emblazoned with King’s portrait.