by Joe Krovoza –
Thank you to the Commission for sponsoring this annual event.
Dr. King has touched us all in different ways. Growing up, I was bused to an integrated junior high in one manifestation of the Civil Rights Act that Martin Luther King Jr. helped usher in. When attending law school at UC Davis, I’d feel the spirit of King every time I passed the statue of the reverend when I entered the front doors of King Hall. I hold on dearly to my old audiotape of King reasoning for non-violent civil disobedience in his Letter from Birmingham Jail.
For these remarks I’d like to draw on a recent encounter with Dr. King. It caught me by surprise, and I’d like to share it with you.
Two years ago, I had the privilege to attend a concert commemorating Dr. King in Washington, DC at the Lincoln Memorial. I was with my oldest daughter, Charlotte, and friends. The event was organized by the Obama and Biden families on the eve of MLK Day in 2009, and just two days before the inauguration of Barak Obama.
With more than 30 celebrity performers and speakers, including Denzel Washington, Bruce Springsteen, Pete Seegar, Beyonce, and Martin Luther King III, we experienced an electrified atmosphere of celebration and commitment. We celebrated Dr. King’s teachings and we committed ourselves to service in support of his legacy.
Charlotte at the Concert
As we absorbed the speeches and songs, it hit me – we were part of an echo, occurring over decades, in precisely that spot on the Washington Mall.
A remarkable convergence of time and place and principles had come together:
- We were gathered on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, a monument honoring our president who had freed the slaves;
- 400,000 of us were at the site where Dr. King had delivered “I Have a Dream” in 1963;
- U2’s Bono sang Pride – In the Name of Love to commemorate the ultimate sacrifice of King; and Bono sang
- To Barack Obama who was there on the stage – he sang to the African-American Senator voted in peacefully to our nation’s highest office, and who was waiting to be inaugurated as the 44th President of the United States of America in less than 48 hours.
Could there have been a greater tribute to Dr. King? I wanted to believe that the fight for equality in America was over. It was not.
What did happen on the Mall that day is that we all joined, or re-joined, the most important echo of American history – the echo for true equality. It’s an echo from 1864 and Lincoln freeing the slaves; an echo from Dr. King in the 1960s and the Civil Rights Act, Voting Rights Act, the Poor People’s Campaign, Operation Breadbasket, and opposition to the Vietnam War; an echo from the despair of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis on April 4, 1968; an echo from U2 connecting Nelson Mandela to Dr. King; and an echo from President Obama’s historic inauguration.
Most important, the echo on that day was getting louder.
My friends on the Mall hours before the program began
I found this to be a very moving event. Yet even as the positive events reverberated, there would always be more to be done. In fact, we stood, a diverse crowd, at the Lincoln Memorial – but in 1921 when the Memorial was dedicated, the very crowd celebrating Lincoln was segregated, with African-Americans relegated to the back.
Forty-three years after King’s death, we still see reminders, particularly in recent headlines, of the reasons for today’s commemoration. Intolerance continues. Some still see violence as a means to an end. Wars still distract our attention from justice at home, and drain our resources. We have recently seen examples of legislated bigotry in the passage of Proposition 8 and polarizing immigration laws. Mutual respect, particularly of those who do not share the same beliefs, is an ideal yet to be attained.
King’s echo on the Mall in 2009 is very important to me. I was born in 1963. I was two when our Davis Freedom Riders – and Terry Turner, Dick Holdstock and John Pamperin are with us today – traveled to Alabama to march from Selma to Montgomery for voting rights with Dr. King. I was five when the reverend was assassinated. I have no memories of King. All I have is the echo.
And so, too, the country and the world have only King’s echo.
I step forward two years now – to 2011. We are together – not on the Mall in Washington D.C. – but in our community.
Physics says that echos fade. But we will defy physics. We will ensure that King’s echo is amplified in Davis, just as it was by Obama and Biden in 2009.
We will act as individuals: judging others only by the content of their character; holding true to our beliefs, even to the detriment of our comfort.
We will all join our local chorus of mutual respect and compassion.
Our choir will sing on the grand stage of non-violence and equality.
King’s echo does resonate in Davis. We volunteer locally and travel to create equality in its many forms. Our faith-based communities join hands with those free not to believe to extend services beyond the capacity and creativity of government. Our schools recognize the abolitionist and poet Frances Ellen Watkins Harper, the principled resister of Japanese internment Fred Korematsu, and Cesar Chavez, and King himself.
I am particularly pleased that in Davis youth are central to the crescendo of King’s echo. My youngest daughter Lillian took Kevin Williams’ Davis High Race & Social Justice course, which we honor today. I know its value. Dr. King’s ideas aren’t just taught, they are “owned” through student research projects. We’ll see that today when Lauren Holtz and Matt Lundgren share their Race and Preschool in Davis project with us. If Davis raises its children well, they will teach us, and the echo will surpass our greatest expectations.
Dr. King’s words mean something different for each of us. Whether you want the echo to fight the horror of war, the injustice of inequality, or the offense of angry rhetoric, please let it guide you to slow down and discover the fairest way to act and the value of principles.
How will I rededicate myself to King? Last winter, I volunteered for the Interfaith Rotating Winter Shelter. I’ll be doing that again this year. You’ll all watch me on City Council cast votes, scratch your heads, and then perhaps realize I voted based on a principle – not politics. I promise to tether the mission of the Human Relations Commission to the City Council.
By making the historical echo of Dr. King’s message local, we will make it louder. And we will make the Davis community better, and our own lives fuller.
Joe Krovoza is the Mayor of Davis. He delivered these remarks on January 17, 2011, during the city’s 17th annual Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration at the Varsity Theater, Davis, CA.