When Virgia Wade was living in Long Beach in the 1970s and 80s, she never saw blacks and Latinos together anywhere and the police freely beat and arrested young people on their way home from school.
She used to fill her car with her children’s friends at Long Beach Poly High School just to drive them about 7 blocks and avoid any possible contact with the police whom Wade says were basically “just another gang.”
While strides have been made to alleviate some racial tension among young people of color, tensions continue to be present and young people are still being incarcerated at an alarmingly high rate.
Decades after Virgia’s observations and almost 45 years after Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated as a martyr for the civil rights movement, some of the same issues of inequality continue to plague Long Beach.
This past summer, for instance, saw a wave of violent crime that included a 38 percent increase in gun violence in the city.
“I see blacks and Latinos at McBride Park skateboarding together all the time and I think they’re living Dr. Martin Luther King’s dream,” said Wade, a founding member of the Long Beach Central Area Association (LBCAA). “Things are much better now, but there is still a long way to go.
As Long Beach gears up to celebrate the birth of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. this week, tales like that of Wade’s begs the question: Are we living the legacy of Dr. King or are we still dreaming?
Dr. King once said, “An individual has not started living until he can rise above the narrow confines of his individualistic concerns to the broader concerns of all humanity.” Today people in Long Beach are teaming with groups standing together to not just to celebrate the victories, but to continue to ask difficult questions and fight injustice in the community.
Putting ‘humanity’ first by focusing on community has also led to the success of a local ‘King.’ King Chan, an 18-year-old Malaysian American organizer from Long Beach. Chan has worked on many issues in the city including gang violence, homelessness and LGBTQI rights.
“Dr. King never did anything by himself and it’s important to remember that it was caring for the causes of others that brought his own passion into the national spotlight,” said Chan, last year’s recipient of the Peace Week Committee Award for youth civil service.
“The right to a quality education, and the lack of it are the biggest injustices facing children in Long Beach,” said Christopher Covington, this year’s youth civil service honoree.
In 2011, dropout rates in large school districts across California average just below 10 percent, a whole two percent higher than the national average. The dropout rate for Long Beach during the same period was more than 16 percent.
“On a national level I think the biggest injustice would be the inequality of marriage,” Covington said. An estimated 11 million gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people nationwide would likely agree. There are an estimated 2.5 million gay people in Los Angeles County, the second largest concentration of whom are here in Long Beach.
Just two months ago a shop-owner was viciously beaten in the street because he was gay. Next month an art show will open at the Historical Society of Long Beach chronicling the queer history of the city.
Everyday Covington says passion drives him do his best to make sure Long Beach is a city that is socially equitable.
[pullquote]“I organize young people in order to give them a voice, while at the same time educating adults about their duty to listen to these kids and every morning,” Covington said. “I still wake up in a ‘disadvantaged’ neighborhood, but the fact that I do this work is my service to the legacy of Dr. King.”[/pullquote]
“I organize young people in order to give them a voice, while at the same time educating adults about their duty to listen to these kids and every morning,” Covington said. “I still wake up in a ‘disadvantaged’ neighborhood, but the fact that I do this work is my service to the legacy of Dr. King.”
Sixth District Councilman Dee Andrews, who took over management of the MLK celebration 6 years ago, said that the biggest injustice facing people in his community is the threat of gang violence. The 6th District is arguably the most diverse district in the city.
“I think the selfishness of these gang-bangers is shameful,” Andrews said. “I think Dr. King would roll over in his grave if we took a walk through my community and he saw what some of these young people are doing with the rights that he fought so hard for them to have.”
However youth leaders like Chan and Covington would argue that blaming young people is not the solution to creating peace.
Instead, community-based organizations in the city believe that using heavy-handed tactics to target large community segments like youth and men of color without identifying root sources of violence, like lack of safe and successful schools and family isolation, is problematic.
Regardless of different approaches community leaders take to promote peace in the city, this week can be important for bringing awareness to the issues facing the Long Beach.
This year marks the city of Long Beach’s 25th annual celebration of the birth of Dr. King.
The following is a full list of the events scheduled for peace week:
Saturday, January 12th
“Pre-Parade & Neighborhood Clean Up”
8:30 am-10:00 am, at McBride Park, 1550 Martin Luther King, Jr. Avenue
Join community groups and neighbors as they work to clean up the parade route area.
Saturday, January 12th
Sponsored by New Generations, NG
12:30 pm-3:00 pm, at Washington Middle School, 1450 Cedar Avenue
Local residents attend to receive free gifts. Gifts include food, clothing, services, and accessories.
Saturday, January 12th
Sponsored by the DHHS Central Facilities Center and the PEACE GARDEN
3:00 pm-5:00 pm, at Peace Garden- DHHS Central Facilities Center, 1133 Rhea Street
In honor of Global PEACE Makers KING, GHANDI, IKEDA, CHAVEZ, the Peace Fest celebrates with music, arts and crafts, local vendors, and neighborhood organizations.
Saturday, January 12th
5:00 pm, at Martin Luther King Jr. Park, 1950 Lemon Avenue
This annual candlelight march spreads the vibration of peace throughout Long Beach. Join community leaders, organizations and neighbors as they walk in harmony for peace.
Sunday, January 13th
All places of worship in the City of Long Beach are encouraged to participate in recognition of Dr. King’s legacy in the form of your choice. This is to promote the dialogue and reflection of Dr. King’s message into our community.
Monday, January 14th
“Dance For Peace”
Sponsored By Long Beach Department of Parks, Recreation & Marine
and Homeland Cultural Center
6:00 pm to 8:30 pm, at Manazar Gamboa Community Theater,
Homeland Cultural Center 1323 Gundry Avenue
An evening of dance and art in motion with special performances from local
Long Beach artist.
Tuesday, January 15th
“Martin Luther King Jr. Presentation & Peace Maker Awards
4:00 pm, at Long Beach City Council Meeting, City Hall, 333 West Ocean Blvd
In honor of Dr. King and the recognition of local community leaders that have continued the message of peace.
Wednesday, January 16th
“Vision of Peace”
Sponsored By Long Beach Human Dignity Program
6-8:00 pm, at Martin Luther King, Jr. Park, 1950 Lemon Avenue
An evening of poetry and short story readings from the Vision of Peace Project.
Thursday, January 17th
“A Day in the Life” with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
Sponsored By The California Conference for Equality and Justice
4:30 pm- 7:00 pm, at Martin Luther King Jr. Park, 1950 Lemon Ave
A panel of community members that has been in contact, connected and interacted with the late Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. will share their personal stories of the time with Dr. King and the knowledge they learned with our new generation of youth.
Saturday, January 19th
25th Annual Martin Luther King, Jr. Peace & Unity Parade and Celebration:
Parade runs from 10:30 am- 12:00 noon. Celebration, which includes two stages of entertainment, health pavilion, teen and youth area and free activities, international food and merchandise vendors will be held from 12 noon – 5:00 pm at
Martin Luther King Jr. Park, 1950 Lemon Avenue, Long Beach, CA