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Dr. King Remembered Across Santa Monica

By Gene Williams
Special to The Lookout

January 18 -- The spirit of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was alive in Santa Monica this holiday weekend, as thousands gathered in the city's churches and synagogues to honor the slain civil rights leader.

Commemorations of King's birthday began Friday evening and culminated Monday when a diverse crowd of some 800 gathered at the First United Methodist Church for the 20th annual interfaith celebration coordinated by the Martin Luther King Jr. Westside Coalition.

Morning sunlight filtered through the stained glass windows of the large church on 11th Street and Washington Avenue as clergy from a variety of religious traditions led the people in a responsive liturgy drawn largely from King's writings, and choirs from JAMS and SMC sang African and Gospel songs.

Following in the tradition of King -- who brought his faith into the political arena -- keynote speaker Paul Cummins delivered a speech highly critical of America's current domestic and foreign policies, hammering home this year's theme: "State of the Union: A Time for Love, Not Hate; for Understanding, Not Anger; for Peace, Not War."

"How can we call ourselves Christian and compassionate and tolerate such conditions?" said Cummins, the founder of Crossroads School and executive director of New Visions Foundation. “We need to register our moral outrage and speak out whenever we see injustice.”

“In the face of the abysmal absence of leadership at the federal level, we need to look more to grassroots organizations, organizations such as those represented here today,” Cummins said.

Cosponsored by Santa Monica College, the City of Santa Monica and the SMC Associates, the day's festivities have become a tradition in Santa Monica and are attended by the city's top civic leaders.

Among those attending Monday's service were Police Chief James T. Butts, Jr., School Superintendent John Deasy and former mayors Richard Bloom and Judy Abdo.

After the ceremony, where $500 scholarships were awarded to two SMC students, 23 nonprofit organizations took part in a “community involvement fair.”

Earlier in the weekend, members of Beth Shir Sholom -- a contemporary reform synagogue -- and First A.M.E. Church -- an African Methodist Episcopal congregation -- joined at two services celebrating the civil rights leader, who was slain in 1968 and would have turned 76 on Saturday.

The first was on Friday evening when about 200 members from both congregations packed the synagogue on 18th Street and California Avenue in the City’s upscale north side for a music-filled shabbat service led by guitar-playing Rabbi Neil Comess-Daniels, who was backed by a large ensemble of musicians and singers.

"We have been doing this sharing of Martin Luther King's Birthday weekend with First A.M.E for about 8 years," said Comess-Daniels. "And it's a wonderful thing. It (is) so nice to know that over these years we can build this relationship. And it's real."

First A.M.E's Pastor Reuben W. Ford remarked, "My Hebrew brothers have soul," provoking appreciative laughter from the combined congregation. He then briefly spoke about the importance of remembering Dr. King.

Ford and Fisrt A.M.E. reciprocated with a similar event at their Pico neighborhood church Sunday morning while, nearby, another service was taking place at Calvary Baptist, which was visited by King during his Civil Rights crusade.

Thirteen-year-old Deante Holland, received a standing ovation after reading King's "I Have a Dream" speech, and Nathaniel Trives -- a longtime member of the church and the only African American to serve as mayor of Santa Monica -- spoke about African Americans who fought to bring down racial barriers.

The service concluded after the congregation joined hands while singing a spirited, gospel-style rendition of "We Shall Overcome" led by Pastor Herman Kemp and the choir.

Kemp, Trives, Ford and Comess-Daniels all went on to play roles in Monday's major celebration at First United Methodist.

Martin Luther King Day became a national holiday in 1983.

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