The theme of this year’s Martin Luther King Jr. celebration Monday in Ashland was about day-to-day activism. The call to a capacity crowd, which wrapped an overflow audience around the front of the Historic Ashland Armory and, via live-streaming video, at the Varsity Theatre, was to spread the message of power, justice and love for all. The celebration began at noon and ended at the Ashland Plaza.
It is the 28th annual celebration in Ashland. The Oregon Shakespeare Festival leads a committee to create the speeches and performances in remembrance to the civil rights leader.
Keynote speaker Alma Rosa Alvarez, an English professor at Southern Oregon University, spoke to galvanizing around love for the purpose of social change.
“Peacemaking is a work of love," she said. "In peacemaking there is no fear.” Alvarez told stories of racial tensions in the Rogue Valley and asked the audience to safeguard against such things by being foot soldiers against racism and discrimination.
“Dr. King’s message is the most relevant now in my lifetime,” Alvarez said. She spoke to the audience of divisions resulting from differences of opinion and politics. “Think about how in the last months we have turned away from people who think differently. I have needed to be reminded.”
She ended her keynote with language to invite action, saying “The time for love is now. The time for action is now!” and her words brought the crowd to its feet.
Alvarez was joined by students from Ashland Middle School who told the audience their experiences of working together, saying “If everyone dropped labels, there would be no discrimination.”
After performances by Oregon Shakespeare Festival actors and Ashland Danceworks, as well as poetry and video clips of civil rights leaders articulating the need for continued progress, audience members marched to the Plaza, where they listened to speakers and a tape of the "I Have A Dream" speech by Martin Luther King Jr.
Attendees were urged by Geneva Craig, who was part of the Selma march in 1965 when Dr. King and his followers marched 54 miles over five days from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama.
Craig told the audience to continue the work, not just in word but action. “You are the foot soldiers,” she told the crowd, while urging them not to leave activism at the rally but to act daily for social change and justice.
Trees Cordero, who was part of organizing the event agreed. “We still have a lot of work," he said. "We need it tomorrow and the day after. We have to do more than post on Facebook. There’s lots of different ways to help. The unity in community is more than one day per year.”
Nine-year-old Ariel also agreed as she walked with her teacher outside the Armory. “I think it was fantastic," Ariel said. "There’s no reason to separate people because of how they look.”
The music of “We Shall Overcome” echoed through the Plaza. The celebrations wrapped up as a drone flew overhead documenting people lifting up paper hearts symbolizing unity in the days to come.
The host of the celebration, DL Richardson, said it’s important that citizens take back their power. “The politics of race have always been there," he said. "Those who moved it forward are the foot soldiers. We as ordinary citizens move things forward.”
Email Ashland freelance writer Julie Akins at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow her on Twitter at twitter.com/@julieakins.