Orange County leaders celebrate MLK Day with the Rev. James Lawson

James Lawson,
Orange County groups partnered to celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. Day in a virtual celebration featuring a guest lecture from 92-year-old the Rev. James Lawson, a nonviolence theorist and educator.
(Courtesy of Democratic Party of Orange County)

The coronavirus pandemic and recent insurrection didn’t subdue Martin Luther King Jr. Day celebrations on Monday.

Several local organizations including the Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc., New Spirit Baptist Church, Women for American Values and Ethics, National Women’s Political Caucus and the Democratic Party of Orange County, partnered on a virtual celebration with nonviolence theorist and educator the Rev. James Lawson as the guest lecturer.

Shelley Henderson, who ran for Westminster City Council last year, hosted the event and introduced speakers including Black Chamber of Commerce Orange County President Robert McDonald, Aliso Viejo City Councilman Richard Hurt, cardiologist Jacqueline Eubany and state Assemblywoman Cottie Petrie-Norris.

“White supremacy has been in the soil of America since 1619,” Henderson said at the beginning of the celebration. “But today, we recommit ourselves to the legacy and the leadership of Dr. King, a legacy of strength of protest, love for humankind and a legacy of creating the beloved community.”

King’s direct connection to Orange County includes two speeches — the first in 1962 at Chapman College and the second in 1968 at the Anaheim Convention Center just weeks before he was assassinated.

Henderson said whenever America makes progress there is backlash. She pointed out local progress in political leadership and national progress in figures like the late U.S. Rep. Shirley Chisholm and Vice President Kamala Harris.

Shelley Henderson hosted the virtual MLK celebration introducing speakers.
Shelley Henderson, who ran for Westminster City Council last year, hosted the virtual MLK celebration introducing speakers.
(Democratic Party of Orange County)

In 2020, there were many firsts in O.C. Black leadership. Leticia Clark became the first Black woman to lead Tustin as mayor. Richard Hurt became the first Black city council member in Aliso Viejo. David Crockett was elected as the first Black trustee to the Rancho Santiago Community College board, and Vicki Calhoun became the first Black trustee in the Fullerton Joint Union High School District.

Lawson, 92, started holding seminars to train people in nonviolent direct action. He helped coordinate the Freedom Riders in 1961, the Meredith March in 1966 and has been involved in campaigns for labor rights and immigration reform. John Lewis, the late congressman, named him as one of the most influential men in his life in “March: Book One,” a comic book recounting Lewis’ years in the civil rights movement.

Lawson’s Monday lecture focused on reflecting on the Black Lives Matters movement and creating a “beloved community” — a notion based on economic and social justice popularized by King.

He called Black Lives Matter “the largest, most diverse, most creative nonviolent movement the nation has ever produced” and said most of the violence came from police, Antifa, looters and white supremacists. Lawson referred to the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol as an example of a violent campaign that produces more harm than good.

Lawson said he’s tried to continue the “beloved community” vision and methodology for justice and truth through working with families in Unite Here Local 11 and other unions in Los Angeles.

“The struggle today is more widespread than ever it was in 1950 or 1960,” Lawson said. “More issues of injustice are brought to the surface than ever before … Since the ‘60s, a larger number of people elected in our offices in all 50 states have a clearer vision of what the nation can be ... We have changed far more institutions of our society across 16 years than we even know about ... and yet at the same moment the struggle for justice, liberty and equality for all has just begun.”

The nearly 90-minute celebration can be watched online through the Democratic Party of Orange County‘s Facebook page.

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