Community organizer Thairie Ritchie addresses a crowd of around 50 people at the Martin Luther King, Jr. Day Youth Event.
Community organizer Thairie Ritchie addresses a crowd of around 50 people at the Martin Luther King, Jr. Day Youth Event on Jan. 15, 2022.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)
Civic Life

MLK youth event focused on awareness and political action

The youth-focused event, held Saturday just east of downtown Santa Cruz, is one of three planned in coming months to celebrate the life of the slain civil rights leader. Speakers focused on the importance of political action, and that no effort is wasted in the work toward a more equitable society.

Under Saturday’s sunny skies, 12 local non-profits mixed with community members for an open-air, Martin Luther King Day gathering in Santa Cruz, emphasizing youth awareness of social justice issues and increasing political activism.

The “Youth Day,” organized by the NAACP Santa Cruz Chapter, was jointly sponsored and hosted at the Resource Center for Nonviolence at 612 Ocean St. This is the third year the two groups have collaborated on events celebrating the civil rights leader.

“Our goal is perpetuating non-violent action and advancing social justice efforts like Black Lives Matter and anti-racism efforts,” said Silva Morales, the center’s executive director.

Though lightly attended overall, approximately 50 people were on hand at points during the four-hour event.

Information tables, staffed by the organizations’ members, discussed and advocated their particular perspectives on political change. The event was the first of three tied to the King recognition holiday. A gospel night in February and a March online event are planned, pending pandemic conditions.

Attendees of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Day Youth Event raise their fists on Jan. 15, 2022.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)

“Our focus is on activism and advancing the dream of Dr. King,” said Brenda Grffin, the NAACP chapter president. “We have up and coming leaders making the movement go forward. We are giving them a platform.”

Community organizer Thairie Ritchie — using the raised fist salute first made famous at the 1968 Mexico City Olympics — asked: “Did they make a difference?” That year, two Black athletes, Tommie Smith and John Carlos, both wearing black gloves, raised their fists during the playing of the “Star Spangled Banner” during their medal ceremony. Both were suspended from the Olympic team within days and paid a significant price for the protest for the rest of their lives.

Answering that question, Ritchie said all change efforts make a difference and that more people need to take up anti-racist, social justice challenges.

Other groups represented at the event included:

The Santa Cruz County Black Student Union, which representatives said helps to create community by way of networking, events, workshops and scholarships.

The Santa Cruz Public Library staffed a table with people available to recommend books and other media focused on the struggle for racial equity and non-violent political action as advanced by King.

Kate Alm, is the mentor of the Harmony Youth Choir, a project of the Juneteenth Collective, serves BIPOC and underserved youth. The choir will perform May 26 at a music festival in Watsonville. Alm encouraged the musically inclined to join. Rehearsals will be held at Live Oak Elementary and at a location to be determined in Watsonville. Rehearsals may be held outdoors if necessary, she added.

Equity Transit, formed in 2018, represented by Lani Faulkner, focuses on improved public transportation for everyone and countering the negative effects of over-dependence on cars.

“Transit equity, environmental and social justice are intimately connected. Investment in public transit benefits all on many levels,” she said.

She said she’s heartened by the trend of younger people saying “no” to cars and “yes” to public transit.

An attendee at the Martin Luther King, Jr. Youth Event on Jan. 15, 2022.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)