Rain showers didn’t stop nearly 200 people of all races, ages and genders from gathering Monday at Downtown City Park in Paso Robles to pay tribute to the life and legacy of pioneering civil rights leader Dr. To commemorate Martin Luther King Jr.
The 2022 Unity Walk began at noon with the Pledge of Allegiance honoring King’s belief in the American system, organizers said.
Next, Paso Robles councilman Fred Strong greeted the protesters and spoke about his relationship with the civil rights leader, with whom he had worked to write the original civil rights bill, which did not pass but laid the groundwork for the future.
“He was always polite, never angry, but he was always determined and very principled,” Strong said of King.
The keynote was delivered by dr Denise Isom, who teaches Black Identity and Education at Cal Poly.
“The rain today is testing our commitment to justice,” Isom said as the rain clouds parted. She took shelter under the gazebo in Downtown City Park and read a moving poem entitled “A Stone of Hope” about the radical nature of hope and black joy, despite the legacy of slavery and generations of discrimination.
After about 30 minutes of remarks from community leaders, the crowd held up their flags and walked through Downtown City Park, up Spring Street and back around to the sound of bagpipes.
Though the crowd wasn’t as large as in previous years, longtime event organizer Lovella Walker said she was grateful to everyone who turned out to show their support for the Paso Robles unit despite the rain.
Monday’s event was the first Martin Luther King Jr. Day the city has been able to host in two years after the previous two events were canceled due to COVID-19, organizers said.
“The time is now, and this is what we need to find healing … but the time is now,” said Juanetta Perkins, who has lived her entire life in Paso Robles.
The 2022 Unity Walk was a little different than previous years. It was outside instead of inside, and the event was hosted by the City of Paso Robles and two new partners – the Paso Diversity Panel and the Paso DEI Education Committee, with support from the Paso Robles School District.
“There’s a lot of power in that — in being able to walk as a community — because we all live here and this is everyone’s community,” said Susana López, an assistant professor of child psychology at Cal Poly and a member of the Paso DEI Board of Education.
The theme of this year’s event was “bridging what divides us,” and event organizers and protesters said this message for diversity and inclusion could not have come at a better time.
“I think events like this will help, and eventually the community will embody or embrace Martin’s message of diversity,” said Walker, administrative assistant at the City of Paso Robles and a member of the Paso Robles Diversity Panel. “So we’re trying to come together as three organizations to try and bring unity to the community.”
North County has become more divided, but the community is hopeful
North County has become more polarized and divided in recent years, event organizers and attendees said.
“I think the city is terribly divided,” said Sondra Williams, a member of the Paso Robles Diversity Panel.
“There are no ‘Whites Only’ signs, and we may have made some progress, but everyone who lives in North County knows and feels the divide,” Williams said.
One of the hotspots for tension was at Paso Robles High School after a series of prejudice-motivated incidents prompted concerned parents and community members to form the Paso Robles DEI Education Committee. said Lopez.
“For me, it’s personal,” said Juanetta Perkins, who attended the event with her daughter and her French bulldog puppy. “Because my daughter has a lot of trouble with racism in the PRHS school district.”
Perkins said progress at Paso Robles would begin by teaching young school children how to treat people with kindness.
Tensions in the community and school district prompted Sondra Williams and other members of the Paso Robles Diversity Panel to host a citizenship discussion last November.
More than 100 community members attended the event, which Williams said demonstrated that the majority of people in Paso Robles want to feel united as a community.
“I honestly feel like people really come from a place of good, and regardless of what picture is painted, I honestly think the majority of the people of Paso Robles want to be reunited,” Williams said.
How Paso Robles High School Celebrated Martin Luther King Jr. Day
Martin Luther King Jr. Day celebrations kicked off Thursday with the theme “The Power of Kindness.” Walk organizers and city officials visited Paso Robles High School to share the civil rights activist’s mission.
Walker said the Kindness theme was chosen because “…there was so much division and hate going on in high school.”
“We used our program to reach the high school students. We talked about the power of kindness,” she said.
About 150 high school students participated in the show, watching a biography of the civil rights activist and his iconic “I Had a Dream Speech.” The teens also took part in an interactive quiz competition based on the films, Walker said.
Winners of the quiz contest received prizes, and participants signed a pledge to be kind and received plastic bracelets that read “The Power of Kindness,” she said.
The Paso Robles High School drama club also performed a skit about racial bullying and name-calling as part of their theme, “The Power of Kindness,” Walker said.
“The tongue is one of the most powerful weapons a person can wield, so use that tongue for good to uplift it,” she said.
History of Martin Luther King Jr. Day celebrations in Paso Robles
Paso Robles was one of the first cities in San Luis Obispo County to honor Martin Luther King Jr. Day with a community event, said Lovella Walker, who has helped plan the program for the city since 2007.
The first Martin Luther King Jr. Day celebration was held in Paso Robles in 1990 after a young black man Walker knew came into town and pointed out that there was no celebration for people of color, she said.
The town got a bunch of people together and they decided to celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. Day, she said. The landmark event attracted about 450 people.
Over time, the event grew, and about six years ago the city partnered with the Paso Robles School District to develop kid-friendly programs around Martin Luther King Jr.’s mission and the civil rights era, she said.
Events for younger schoolchildren, which are usually arts and crafts competitions, have been scaled back due to the coronavirus pandemic and only included The Power of Kindness program for the high school, she said.
That didn’t stop the youngsters from coming out to celebrate Martin Luther King Jr.
Gaylene Ewing, a Paso Robles resident, and her 5-year-old son Jupiter came to Monday’s event for many reasons, she said, including: “To honor the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. and to be part of a community that.” is still a fight for justice.”
“Martin Luther King Jr.’s work is not done yet.”