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UDWA News Post

King Day celebrated with fiery speech, volunteerism

By Joshua Emerson Smith, San Diego Union Tribune, January 16th, 2017

The rising activist Rev. William J. Barber II on Monday headlined the 29th annual “All Peoples” celebration in San Diego, which honors Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Addressing a rapt audience, the fiery pastor from North Carolina delivered the keynote speech that repeatedly brought a sold-out crowd at the Balboa Park Activity Center to its feet.

Barber took the stage and began delivering what would be an hour-long sermon addressing everything from gender equality to health care to minimum wage to voting rights, as well as myriad issues surrounding race and poverty.

His recurring theme was a call to oppose powerful political and moneyed interests, namely President-elect Donald Trump and his cabinet. A top member of the North Carolina National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), the nationally known pastor has recently emerged as fierce critic of the incoming president.

“This moment that we’re in is about whether a government of the people and by the people will serve the people,” he said. “It’s about whether we as the people can reconstruct the heart of our democracy.

“There’s nothing unprecedented about Donald Trump’s election if you know American history,” he added. “His appeal to the less angels of our nature is as American as apple pie.”

The speech was one of a number of events on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, including a breakfast hosted by the United African American Ministerial Action Council at the Jacobs Center for Neighborhood Innovation, and the 9th annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Interfaith Service, which invites people to volunteer on beautification projects in Balboa Park.

Rev. Dr. William J. Barber of North Carolina, a nationally recognized leader of civil rights. (Peggy Peattie / San Diego Union-Tribune)

The All Peoples celebration, hosted by Alliance San Diego, drew more than a thousand community members, civic leaders and progressive politicians who responded to Barber with heartfelt cheers, roaring applause, tears and numerous standing ovations.

“People came with a hunger and a need and I think he filled it,” said state Sen. Toni Atkins, D-San Diego, who spoke at and attended the event. “This is about inspiring us, but also with a dose of reality that we’ve got work to do.”


Assemblyman Todd Gloria, D-San Diego, said Barber’s speech was “what a lot of us want to and need to hear.”

Other notable speakers included Doug Moore, executive director of United Domestic Workers of America, AFSCME Local 3930, and Beth Johnson, co-president of Interfaith Center for Workers Justice.

Though Trump was heavily criticized by Barber, the president-elect earlier in the day held a high-profile meeting in New York with Martin Luther King III, son of the civil rights icon, to discuss voting rights.

That meeting came in the wake of increasing tensions between Trump and African-American leaders, triggered by some critical words between the president-elect and Rep. John Lewis, the Georgia Democrat who fought in the civil rights movement beside King.

Barber touched on this and other recent political dust-ups as fodder for the idea that the country continues to be dogged by issues of race and class.

“Here we are in the 21st Century, my friends, and we still find that racism and economic fear can still too often conjure a powerful magic, which compels many in this nation to seek safety in hating the other,” Barber said.

“Republican’s deny race and too often Democrats don’t know how to talk about it,” he added.

At the close of the speech nearly everyone in attendance stood, held hands and chanted at Barber’s behest: “Standing down and bowing down is not an option” — an impassioned cry that he used throughout the event to punctuate long diatribes against the incoming administration.

“The room responded because of all the truths that he told, which were right on key, right on target,” said Barbara Perry, a registered nurse with the United Nurses Association of California, who attended the event.