Martin Luther King Day: They Never Heard Him Give a Speech

Gloria Walton

Gloria Walton of Strategic Concepts in Organizing and Policy Education

They probably first heard of him the same way they first heard of President Abraham Lincoln—as a preschool coloring project.

They never heard Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. give a speech, they never saw him preach or lead a march. But L.A.’s young community activists—21st -century organizers standing up for exploited workers, for bullied gay teens and for children sickened by polluters too close to their daycare centers—are walking in the footsteps that Dr. King imprinted on the American conscience.

These new leaders are an inspiration to all of us. They’re in the fight for the long haul, working fiercely and persistently for the justice they see lacking in our world. And they work the streets of Los Angeles every day of the year.

Who is on hand to talk to a dazed and terrified dance hostess, a single mother, caught up in a raid on the downtown nightclub where she’s been working in indentured-servitude conditions? Look for Xiomara Corpeño of Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles, a new mother herself, who advises immigrant workers facing separation from their families.

Who came back from the Ivy League to her Commerce neighborhood to join her friends and neighbors fighting to survive the area’s escalating industrial pollution? That would be Isella Ramirez of East Yard Communities for a Better Environment, who knows that behind every childhood cancer statistic in low-income, high-pollution neighborhoods is a treasured loved one like her own baby niece.

Who stands with parents seeking safe haven and fair treatment for their gay, lesbian and transgender teenagers in their community’s turbulent streets, under-performing schools and reluctant churches? Latino Equality Alliance’s Ari Gutierrez and Eddie Martinez challenge faith leaders, healthcare leaders, education leaders and families to pull together and fight all kinds of discrimination in East L.A.

Who brings together Black and Latino student commuters, Koreatown grandmas, African immigrants and low-income seniors, raising voices not only for affordable transit fares but for all issues impacting low-income city dwellers? Meet Tammy Bang Luu of Labor/Community Strategy Center, a first-generation Vietnamese-American whose tireless work for people of all backgrounds is based on vision of people of the world meeting on an L.A. bus.

And who is calling forth democracy-movement, people-power emotions in struggling South L.A. neighborhoods, where African-American workers, business people and aspiring families of all races are making it a point to vote in ever-growing numbers? Let me introduce Gloria Walton of Strategic Concepts in Organizing and Policy Education. She knows that the families in South L.A. that she works with are no different than her hard-working mother in Mississippi who can’t afford to come visit or her brother who can’t find work.

“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” This generation of leaders has taken Dr. King’s injunction to heart and they are taking action. They and their peers find common ground by connecting not only through race, gender, sexual orientation or citizenship status, but also, on higher ground, through shared aspirations and hope for the future.

Eddie Martinez
Eddie Martinez

Eddie and Ari, Isella, Gloria, Xiomara and Tammy are just a few of this generation’s grassroots leaders. They’ve had soul-stretching personal experiences on their journeys from small towns overseas or modest working class American neighborhoods to colleges and universities where they broadened their abilities in other ways.

They’ve consciously sought out teachers—both the kind you find in our best schools and the kind found on corners where the day laborers congregate, at childcare centers and in church basements. Their vision is broad—although they may not yet be able to see the top of the mountain, they’ve seen a lot of ridges and switchbacks and winding trails. They’re able to see the shared human condition and bring that expanded vision to the fight for better health, better jobs and equal rights for their families and neighbors.

Kafi D. Blumenfield None of these community leaders are old enough to have known Martin Luther King, Jr. in his lifetime, but they are all fulfilling his legacy by taking to heart not only his words but his deeds and breathing life into his values every day. These are America’s new young leaders, and day after day, they bend the arc of history toward justice.

Kafi D. Blumenfield

Kafi Blumenfield is President and CEO of Liberty Hill Foundation and serves on the selection committee for the James Irvine Foundation Leadership Awards.


  1. Rose says

    This article gives an excellent perspective on the legacy of MLK. It is so inspiring to see people actively carrying on the movement for social and racial justice.

    In response to Bill, you are correct about one thing only: your bigoted opinions no longer have a place in our society. The masses have spoken and your hateful lifestyle will eventually be phased out by a nation and world full of people that know better. Don’t like it? Then go back to your mother land, you racist crybaby.

  2. Brian Zwart says

    Hmmmm…. and I’m not really motivated to check sources from the above.. how do you know when someone is lying? You have to look them deep in the eye and see if they are distracted by guilt to detect a lie, or you can get a different story from another source.

  3. Bill Gibbons says

    Here are four things that self-loathing white liberals don’t want to know about ‘Dr. Martin Luther’ King:

    1. His name wasn’t Martin Luther. It was Michael. It was decided ‘Martin Luther’ had a more prominent ring to it, so he went by that. He never legally changed his name. To this day, he lived and died as Michael King.

    2. While working on his dissertation for his doctoral degree at Boston University, he heavily plagiarized from another author who had done research on a subject similar to King’s. An academic committee later found that over half of King’s work was plagiarized, yet would not revoke his doctrine. King was dead by this time, and the committee ruled that revoking the title would serve no purpose. It was also discovered that King’s famous “I Have A Dream” speech was also not his own. He stole it from a sermon by Archibald Carey, a popular black preacher in the 1950’s.

    3. King was under FBI surveillance for several years (until he died) due to his ties with communist organizations throughout the country. King accepted money from the organizations to fund his movements. In return, King had to appoint communist leaders to run certain districts of his SCLC (Southern Christian Leadership Conference), who then could project their communist ideas to larger audiences. A federal judge in the 60’s ruled that the FBI files on King’s links to communism to remain top-secret until 2027. Senator Jesse Helms appealed to the Supreme Court in 1983 to release the files, so the current bill in the Senate to create the Martin Luther King Federal Holiday could be abolished. He was denied.

    4. One of King’s closest friends, Rev. Ralph Abernathy, wrote a book in 1989 in which he talked about King’s obsession with white prostitutes. King would often use church donations to have drunken sex parties, where he would hire two to three white prostitutes, occasionally beating them brutally. This has also been reported by the FBI agents who monitored King. And the “Reverend” King was married with four children.

    “Martin Luther King” Day is a joke. Imagine having a day that brings the entire USA to a screeching halt so we can have parades and memorials to honor this man, a man that most of the world views as a saint for his role in the civil rights movement.

    No other public holiday in the United States honors a single individual. Of all the great leaders in our Nation’s history – none of them have their own holiday. All of our great war heroes share Memorial Day. All of our great presidents share President’s Day. Yet King – a man who was a phony, a cheater, a traitor, and a sexual degenerate – gets a day of his own.

    I have a big problem with that.

    I’m not trying to take anything away from black Americans, but I am trying to point out that (1) the vast majority of people are sorely mistaken about Michael King, and (2) that reverse discrimination is blatantly obvious everywhere you look today. Been watching the news lately?

    As a white heterosexual male, I feel like I belong to one of the more abused ethnic groups these days. Can I do anything about it? Absolutely not. If I dare speak out I’ll get labeled a racist, harassed by the media, subsequently lose my job, and never be able to show my face in public again. But what I will do is send out this email to as many people I know in hopes that when you’re watching the news where anybody who is anybody will be falling over themselves to gush praise over a phony.

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