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My real Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service

January 21, 2015

On Monday January 19, 2015 – Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday – recently the call has been to make this day – A day on, not a day off.People are encouraged to engage in service projects and participate in activities that commemorate or educate on Dr. King’s life and the civil rights movement.

This year with all the protests prompted by the death and lack of justice for Michael Brown, Eric Garner and the horrible killing of two NYPD officers, many have taken to the streets in protest. While signs proclaim “Black Lives Matter”, I believe all lives matter. As you do to the least of us, you do for me.

On January 19, 2015 in the San Francisco Bay Area, I participated in a multi-organizational clean-up of Lake Merritt Park and its Gardens. While the clean-up was important, my real MLK Day was working along side two of my sorority sisters who had been raised in Jim Crow Alabama and Mississippi.

The stories they shared of segregation had me and another soror riveted. One of the women raised in Birmingham knew one of the girls killed at the 16th St. Baptist church. She told a story of sharing her experiences with her son who somehow did not believe her until they visited the 16th St. Baptist Church and she asked the janitor to allow them on the main level so she could show her son that area. The janitor and my soror soon discovered that they knew each other and attended the same elementary school and he remembered her.
My other soror shared how segregated Mississippi paid for her to attend a private high school, so they did not risk her integrating the public high schools. She also shared how the highest scoring boy and girl on the high school exit exam were featured in the local paper. She saw the girl in the paper who had received the highest score but knew she had already been accepted to Tuskegee. However, the principal of her catholic school, a nun, called her in and shared that she had indeed scored the highest but was denied being in the paper due to racism. She received a Bulova for her accomplishment which she proudly still owns.

Young people took the lead in fighting for change by sitting at lunch counters and getting arrested. These women shared their first hand knowledge of these events. It’s one thing to be a child as I was and remember seeing the fire hoses turned on people on television. It is another thing entirely to have your friends hosed and arrested.

I asked these women how they felt about the recent protests in our area as I shared I believed the protests were misdirected. I shared that I felt the civil rights movement was targeted on protesting specific areas of discrimination and demanding change whether lunch counters, buses or voting rights. They agreed that now if seems people just want to get on the news or cause a disturbance.

My history lesson

My history lesson

The Alameda County Public Defender’s Office is the only group to set forth specifics that I believe will address needed changes to the criminal justice system in the United States.

I hope that this movement will transform to ALL LIVES MATTER with specific steps to improve police and community relations, the adjudication of actions even if the grand jury is involved and most importantly let’s place the same energy around voting and jury duty that we are putting around shutting down BART and the freeways.

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