Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s “I Have a Dream” speech is often quoted, but his letter from a Birmingham jail in 1963 also resonates strongly with Dr. Anna Everett.
Everett, a retired teacher and a current member of the Santa Barbara City College Board of Trustees, was one of the primary speakers at Monday’s virtual remembrance of King in Santa Barbara. She spoke about how the letter moved her.
King wrote the missive while jailed for participating in nonviolent demonstrations against segregation. He sent the letter to eight religious leaders who had called the demonstrations “unwise and untimely.”
Everett recited some of the maxims that King wrote, including: “Justice too long delayed is justice denied”; “Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly,” and “’Wait’ has almost always meant ‘never.’”
“What strikes me is how they punctuate so much of our public debate today,” Everett said. “Debates such as systemic racism and our long-awaited reckoning with race in our post-George Floyd murder moment.”
About 200 people observed activists, elected officials, members of the clergy, and others participating in the event, put on by the Martin Luther King Jr. Committee.
The ceremony featured music, dance, speeches and dozens of images from previous celebrations by photographer Rod Rolle.
The event’s theme was centered on another King quote: “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.”
Everett, a member of the Santa Barbara County Commission For Women, also announced at the event that the commission has honored Simone Ruskamp and Krystle Sieghart, the co-founders of the Black Lives Matter: Healing Justice SB with the 2021 Community Service Award.
Monday’s event shined attention on the Eternal Flame, a monument at UCSB’s Buchanan Hall South Lawn. The memorial was gifted to the campus by students in 1969.
“The real focus of this eternal flame was on the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King,” said Dr. Hymon Johnson, a retired professor at Antioch University, who also noted that the flame honored President John F. Kennedy and Sen. Robert F. Kennedy.
Johnson said there are only two flames that honor King, the one at UCSB and the another in Atlanta.
“Many are good at offering good words,” Johnson said. “But good words require dedication. This is a critical time in our history and each year we celebrate this legacy of Dr. King. So let us be dedicated and let us do the work that will, in truth, bring the results that we seek.”
Several elected officials also made comments, including First District Santa Barbara County Supervisor Das Williams.
“It is obvious that with the tragedies of the last year that this is not a time to take a break from the fight for justice,” Williams said. “I am here to tell you, in the words of my grandfather, who experienced great racism and tragedy in his life, that the best is yet to come. Or as perhaps Dr. King might have put it, that in the darkness, the light shines, ever more brightly.”
The event was emceed by Wendy Sims-Moten, executive director of First 5 Santa Barbara County, and a member of the Santa Barbara Unified School District Board of Education.
“Each year during this time we come together in solidarity, inspired by the hopes and dreams of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.,” Sims-Moten said. “He left us many powerful words of courage, compassion, acts of non-violence, and of course his dream of making this a better world for all.
Santa Barbara Mayor Cathy Murillo also presented a proclamation to E. Onja Brown, president of the Martin Luther King Jr. Committee.
“Let us look to the year 2021 to achieve social and racial justice and healing,” Murillo said during the virtual ceremony.
The Rev. Richard A Lawrence of San Diego, a retired United Methodist clergyman who was active in the civil rights movement and who knew Dr. King personally, spoke at the event.
“In New Hampshire, which is just up the street from where I am living right now, they tell you ‘live free or die,’” Lawrence said. “That’s how priceless, freedom is. If anyone tries to take away our freedom, we should be prepared to fight for it to the death.”
The event also featured awards for poetry and essay writing, given to a variety of students, both in elementary and high school.
Everett said she is grateful for her own journey into community activism, which has led her to elected office.
Everett said King’s Birmingham letter from jail is relevant today.
“It should be required and recurring reading for social and political activists, aspiring and incumbent politicians alike, ” Everett said.