On Monday, Jan. 18, Martin Luther King Day, 6-year-old Gianna Argueta, wearing a black parka and clutching a handful of flowers, stood outside the MLK Center on Riverside Boulevard with her father, Sergio Argueta, listening to speeches praising the slain civil rights leader and urging that his work continue.
It was the second time that Gianna had been at an MLK rally with her father, who is a longtime community activist in Nassau County and the founder of a gang-prevention agency.
“It’s important that all of us love each other,” Gianna said as she listened. She added that she had watched TV on Jan. 6, when rioters took over the U.S. Capitol. “It was very sad,” she said. “And it wasn’t cool.”
Gianna was one of about 100 people who turned out to celebrate the life of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who was assassinated at a Memphis motel on April 4, 1968.
This MLK Day was marked by memories of one of the most painful years in recent American history, including the killing of Black people at the hands of police, a pandemic that has taken the lives of more than 400,000 people, a president who was impeached for the second time, high unemployment and the mob attack on the Capitol.
Participants marched fromLaurelton Boulevard to the MLK Center, listening to some of King’s most memorable speeches, including his “I Have a Dream” speech, delivered on Aug. 28, 1963, on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C.
At the MLK Center, its chairman, James Hodge, noted that the facility, which serves children and seniors, has been closed since the pandemic began in March, the longest closure since the building opened in 1967. Long Beach and MLK officials continue to discuss ways to reopen the center, which lacks a Covid-19 safety plan, city officials have said. City officials said they have been in talks with MLK board members aimed at helping to reopen the center.
Hodge said that emails were sent to all of the City Council members, inviting them to the event, but “none of them came.”
But council President John Bendo said that neither he nor other council members had received invitations. Bendo also said that the event violated the state’s Covid-19 safely rules, which limit gatherings, depending on the event and the venue.
Hodge, Bendo said, had changed the name of the event from a “march” to a “protest,” which is protected by free speech laws. Hodge “rebranded it to get around the law,” Bendo said.
Hodge insisted that email invitations were sent out, and provided a Herald reporter with copies of emails that he said showed that Bendo and City Manager Donna Gayden had been invited. He said the event had always been called a “protest,” and it did not violate Covid-19 restrictions.
“We love everybody,” Hodge said at the event. “We love this city, and we love the council, but they are not here.”
Referring to the riot at the Capitol and other events, Anissa Moore, a former City Council president and a professor at Nassau Community College, said, “We must move forward, but the violence must stop before the healing can begin.” She also called for the reopening of the MLK Center.
State Sen. Todd Kaminsky, a Long Beach Democrat, noted that white supremacists had attempted to take over the Capitol, and that their actions should not be forgotten on MLK Day. “This is about fighting today and the next day” against such actions, Kaminsky said.
Hodge said that he and others fear that parts of Long Beach’s largely Black North Park section may be taken over by developers who want to build high-priced condominiums and push Black people out of the area. City officials have said that no such plans exist.
Much of the day, however, was dedicated to what King would want to see in 2021. “If Dr. King were here, he would tell our children, ‘You are our future,’” Hodge said.
Then Kelis Walsh, 14, addressed the crowd outside the MLK Center. “Since I was little, I have been marching in Black Lives Matter parades,” she said. “I was 6 when I started. I want you to know that all lives matter.”
Later, Kelis said she wants to become a surgeon.