It was a message that was especially poignant for U.S. Rep. Lois Capps. “It’s so striking to me after we just experienced another senseless act of violence. Dr. King gave us the script, the blueprint for peace, which is just as timely today as it was all those years ago,” Capps said before joining other elected officials and members of the community in the seven-block march from the park to the Oxnard Performing Arts Center for a morning program celebrating King’s legacy. “The tragedy in Tucson makes it hard for us representatives to do our work. This is what happens when the rhetoric tears us down rather than rises us up,” Capps said, referring to the Jan. 8 event in which Jared Lee Loughner allegedly killed six people and wounded 19 others, including Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, during an event the congresswoman was hosting to meet her constituents at a Tucson shopping center.
The Martin Luther King Jr. Day celebration marks the 25th year the Martin Luther King Jr. Committee of Ventura County has organized the event. According to Bedford Pinkard, who was one of the original organizers, the event is only getting more popular. “I think it’s getting better. I think there’s a bigger understanding of what Dr. King is about. People don’t need to die to realize his dream,” Pinkard said.
Everardo Rivera of Oxnard was holding a picture of Cesar Chavez as he waited at Plaza Park with his son Emiliano, 5, for the march to begin. “Dr. King was very influential to Cesar Chavez who went through much of the same injustices with agribusiness, things that are still happening in Oxnard today,” Rivera said. “The people here are very diverse — just a nonviolent mass convening of people.”
In addition to Capps, Ventura County Supervisors John Zaragoza and Steve Bennett were on hand, as were a number of city council members from around Ventura County.
“We are here to celebrate equality and justice for all people and here to celebrate the dream of Martin Luther King Jr.,” Zaragoza said. “Tucson is an issue that hits at the heart. We need to work to support that dream.”
With a marching beat provided by members of the Channel Islands High School marching band, the large crowd headed down Fifth Street on its way to the Performing Arts Center where the county committee put on a program, “The Legacy,” which featured speakers, awards, music and Scripture.
Alma Redhead of Camarillo said she brought her children to the program because her two oldest, Travis and Shyra Thomas, were being honored for academic achievement and she wanted her younger children, Corina Thomas, 11, Kenneth Redhead, 5, and Colin Redhead, 4, to understand King’s legacy. “They need to know all the work he did to get everyone to work together. He told us that as a group all things are possible and we can overcome any hurdle.”
Music was provided by the MLK Celebration Choir and Oxnard High School band, which offered a variety of spirituals and other inspirational music.
The keynote speaker was Ramsey Jay Jr., a graduate of Ventura High School who has gone on to earn an MBA from Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth College and was featured as one of Ebony Magazine’s “30 Leaders Under 30” in 2007. Jay explained that Ventura County has always been a source of inspiration.
“Ventura County gave me the ability to dream,” Jay said, adding that King’s message still lives on. “Those who thought they could shut out the dream with their bullets were mistaken. We will keep dreaming and the dream will be realized.”