For what would have been his 90th birthday, an event did, indeed, include a celebration, songs and a lot of love for Martin Luther King Jr. at Glendale Community College on Tuesday.
The Glendale College Foundation hosted its fourth annual MLK Interfaith Breakfast during which a variety of guests spoke about the impact of King and the necessity to follow his legacy and dream today.
“This is about faith, love and community,” said organizer Robert Hill, the college’s dean of student services. “This is about bringing good people together. We use the word ‘interfaith’ because there’s a common denominator, common thread that runs through all this, which is love.”
The event’s keynote speaker, Rana Singh Sodhi, had his boundaries of love and forgiveness tested.
Sodhi’s brother, Balbir, was murdered four days after Sept. 11, 2001 in what is believed to be the nation’s first hate crime since the terrorist attacks.
The Sodhi brothers shared the Sikh faith and stood out because of their turbans.
Balbir Sodhi was murdered just outside his gas station in Mesa, Ariz., by Frank Roque, who called the victim a terrorist.
Rana Sodhi said he went into a depression after his brother’s death. The act of racial violence came as a shock, as Rana Sodhi did not believe such crimes happened in the United States.
A massive outpouring of support helped bring him back from the depths of despair.
“I saw hundreds of people get together with flowers and candles,” Rana Sodhi said. “The community — locally, nationally and internationally — spoke and loved us and my family. Today, I’m here because our interfaith community spoke of love.”
Rana Sodhi’s love extended to forgiving Roque and inviting the shooter to tour with him should Roque ever leave prison. He even invited Roque’s wife and daughter to the most recent memorial for his brother last September.
While the murder took place one state over from California, Glendale City Clerk Ardy Kassakhian was quick to remind event-goers that racism can happen at home.
Kassakhian spoke how former Glendale mayor George Wickham placed restrictions on his rental property in 1952 that called for residents to only be Caucasians.
“This gentleman’s picture hangs in city hall,” Kassakhian said.
He also pointed to past issues such as race lodging restrictions in Fresno and American Nazi rallies at La Crescenta Park that happened in the past.
“We are not immune to bigotry,” Kassakhian said.
In between serious conversations and discussions, master of ceremony Aisha Alfa also provided laughs and moments of levity, including when she stopped her opening remarks to put on a cone-shaped birthday hat.
“Today, we are celebrating the life of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.,” Alfa said. “So, today is going to be a birthday party.”
Gospel artist Chris Hawkins kept the birthday celebrating going by singing his own soulful version of the “Happy Birthday” song.
Following the breakfast and conversation, the day continued with Matt Lawrence, a philosophy professor from Long Beach City College, giving a presentation about race and equity, which focused on African-American student success rates and closing the learning gap.
Armine Hacopian, a Glendale Community College board trustee, said education and access to help are key for the future.
“We need to not only recognize the importance of the day, but to find a way to equalize services and learning for all students,” she said. “These schools are great equalizers, and we’re proud of that.”