MLK Day celebration to focus on (other) marginalized communities
Celebrations of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. usually focus on the black community, but this year a Chico celebration is also including other marginalized groups in Chico: the homeless and Muslim populations.
Sue Hilderbrand, a spokeswoman for the MLK Unity group organizing the event, said the choice may seem strange, but the spirit of King is shared among all minorities—especially if they have been dehumanized or criminalized. The MLK Unity group aims “to build community involvement and awareness about the legacy of Dr. King and the ongoing effort to achieve a just society for all peoples,” according to the group’s website.
“They said this is basically about reaching out to the various communities, as Dr. King said: ‘This is how we build a beloved community. We reach out. We don’t exclude,’” Hilderbrand said.
Current events illustrate how King’s dream of equality and freedom is still unrealized. Political attacks against the Muslim community, as well as reports of vandalism and attacks on mosques, are spreading across the country. Islamophobia is on the rise. In addition, locally, the Chico City Council voted last fall to approve the Offenses Against Waterways and Public Property Initiative, which prohibits the storage of personal property in public places and other perceived nuisances associated with homeless people. Some critics say the law is discriminatory.
Bill Such, former executive director of the Jesus Center, and Abdul Haq, imam of the Chico Islamic Center, will speak to those subjects during the ’Til Justice Rolls Down rally on Sunday (Jan. 17). The Black Lives Matter movement will be incorporated into the event as well.
Such worked at for the Jesus Center for 10 years and was forced out last year by that organization’s board of directors, at the same time the controversial waterways ordinance exposed divides in the community regarding homelessness. The issue ties strongly into MLK Day, he said.
“Wherever there are people who are suffering, who are a minority within the population, then the symbolic parallelism between the civil rights struggle in the ’60s and how it relates then to the homeless situation is there,” Such said.
He classifies homeless people into two categories: the worthy and the unworthy. He uses the word “unworthy” loosely, clarifying that no human is actually unworthy. The worthy, Such said, are those who through bankruptcy or divorce lose their home. The unworthy are people with alcohol or drug addictions or serious mental health problems. As a Christian, his job isn’t to advocate for drug addicts to continue their habits in a home, but to offer them a different life, one that removes them from their “walking zombie” lifestyle, he said.
“The unworthy person, the unworthy poor, the person who is on the street who has nowhere to stay because they could receive a warning from the police, this person is in a condition where they are a threat to us and to our existence,” he said. “The homeless person represents a threat to us because ultimately the homeless person has got nothing, and we know that when we die, we’re going to go like that—in the sense of having nothing.”
Part of his speech will relate to the community, including churches, that homeless people deserve help, especially if they have an addiction. They deserve compassion. Such would like to see more night and day shelters where agencies can offer their services to help these individuals move on to a better life.
“There’s a blind eye, in my view, from many, many—most—churches in respect to the unworthy poor,” he said.
The soft-spoken Haq moved from New Jersey to Chico three years ago, and now teaches at the mosque off Nord Avenue. He wants the community to feel more connected and to help those who need it—without them having to ask.
Drawing from passages of the Quran and the singing of the prophets, Haq has prepared a speech he hopes will inspire the public through unity, love and equality.
“My message is to come together, be one nation, not be divided, and to let our actions speak louder than our words,” he said. “Also, to transform this love into actions and not to be those who say, ‘Yes, we are together,’ while they are divided in their heart. Let us be sincere in our unity and love one another.”
The messages of equality and respect shared by King are similar to the teachings of Jesus and Muhammad, he said. The messages are the same—that we should love one another and leave a positive legacy, because we only have one life to live.
“Be a human being, love others and love yourself, because life is very short and everyone should leave a good print in this life,” he said.
Sarena Kirk, a Chico State graduate, says the event will allow attendees to show solidarity with neglected communities around Chico. Participating in such events helps open people’s eyes to new ideas, she said. For instance, becoming a member of the MLK Unity group has helped her understand the privileges she has as a white person that might otherwise have been overlooked, she said.
She recalled working at Chico State’s Gender and Sexuality Equity Center as a program coordinator in 2013 and helping a student who wanted more information on queer people of color. She was puzzled at the question because she didn’t understand why someone would need separate resources. White was a default for her, she said.
“I think this is common for white people—that there’s anxiety about race or about talking about it; it kind of gets in the way of them doing anything about it,” she said. “For me, my anxiety was so much that I couldn’t really feel the issue. It was still pretty abstract to me.”
Thanks to mentorship from members at the Cross-Cultural Leadership Center and the Queer People of Color Society on campus, however, Kirk has a deeper understanding of race and is more aware of her white privilege, she said. On that note, she encourages members of the community to attend ’Til Justice Rolls Down—and take away something new.