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Have Dr. King's Goals Been Met? Santa Monicans Sound Off

By Lookout Staff

January 16 -- To help celebrate Martin Luther King Day, The Lookout invited a cross section of local civic leaders, residents, business owners and workers to comment on the following passage from Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream Speech” given in 1963.

"One hundred years (after the end of slavery), the Negro still is not free. One hundred years later, the life of the Negro is still sadly crippled by the manacles of segregation and the chains of discrimination. One hundred years later, the Negro lives on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity. One hundred years later, the Negro is still languished in the corners of American society and finds himself an exile in his own land."

Here are the answers we received to the question: “Based on your impressions, do you think Blacks ‘still languish in the corners of society?’ Is this happening in Santa Monica? How?”

P. Lamont Ewell -- Santa Monica City Manger

When comparing the plight of Black Americans in 1963 to today, one would have to enthusiastically acknowledge that we have made significant advancements throughout America at every level of society. Having the privilege of serving as our city's first African American City Manager is but one example.

However, Dr. King’s dream has yet to be fully realized. We need only look at such realities as our student school achievement gaps (which I have great hope that Superintendent Talarico will successfully close), the predominant group who continue to populate our jails and the majority of those without access to such essential needs as healthcare.

These are but a few examples of why it is imperative that we each work to keep his dream alive and continue striving for equality for all. When any one group struggles, as a society, we have all failed.

Abby Arnold – grant writer and former head of the Santa Monica Neighborhood Support Center

I agree with Dr. King that African-Americans still carry the history of slavery, which is reflected in their status in society. White liberals, like most of us in Santa Monica, try to do our part to make up for this history through affirmative action in hiring, consciousness-raising, education, open housing, and making an effort to include African-Americans among our friends.

One hundred and fifty years after emancipation, this obviously is not effective enough. I have thought about ways in which White society might be able to make more progress toward reparations for slavery and reconciliation. Affirmative action, equal education, and ending housing discrimination have all helped achieve the progress that has been made in the last 50 years.

I would like to see an authentic economic strategy to achieve true economic equality for African-Americans. That would make a fundamental difference. In addition, I think we need to come up with a way of thinking about slavery that accepts our responsibility and truly tries to atone.

One modern model is the German people's response to their Nazi heritage, and the incorporation of that shame and guilt into their public culture. We don't do that here in the U.S. in regard to slavery. The other model is a truth and reconciliation process, as developed in South Africa after apartheid. So much in the U.S. is "undiscussable!" Acknowledging the truth of slavery through many different institutions over an extended period of time might achieve some healing.

Oscar de la Torre, Vice President - SMMUSD Board of Education

A report was issued by the SMMUSD's Intercultural District Advisory Council stating that 90 percent of African American male students at Santa Monica High have a 2.0 GPA or below. In a newsletter I received from Community Corporation of Santa Monica, I learned that African American families have been the hardest hit by rapid gentrification.

One thing is certain, African American and low-income families of all ethnicities are being pushed out of Santa Monica.

At the national level, I have read that schools and communities are more segregated than in the 1960s and the evidence of institutionalized racism is abundant in the number of African American youth and other "minorities" who are incarcerated.

On the other hand, some have argued that African American representation in our public institutions is proof that racism is a past practice with little support in liberal Santa Monica. I think that we cannot look at the problem of racial integration through the lens of the 1960s. In fact, many of the gains, such as affirmative action, that were accomplished through the civil rights movement have been eliminated.

In this sense, I believe things are worse because we have the same problems with no moral impetus and no national movement to create as MLK dreamed of a "beloved community" where justice prevails. It hurts to see that our government can spend so efficiently on war, but could not respond to the needs of our people in New Orleans.

Judy Abdo -- former mayor, director of Child Development Services for the School District

Martin Luther King Jr demonstrated non-violence in his work and in his life.
The lessons he taught are still needed in Santa Monica. We must learn how
to instill the principles of non-violence in our community. We do a lot of
talking about it, but if we don't begin to change our relationships, it will
remain just talk. Our youth demand our attention. How many of us are
mentoring young people?

If we as a community can demonstrate respect for the youngest among us and
instill principles of non-violence in families with young children and in
our school communities, we will see great changes in how we treat each
other. How many of us are listening to children and youth when they express
their concerns?

Our community institutions have begun to discuss ways to focus on the needs
of children from birth to 5 years old. It is time to ask ourselves how each
of us can be part of the solution to problems highlighted by Martin Luther
King Jr during his life. How many of us make the connection between youth
violence and early childhood experiences?

Martin Luther King Jr looked at racism over 100 years. Now it is 50 years
later, and we must grapple with the contradictions in our own community
where we value diversity and at the same time allow families in our midst to
live in poverty. How many of us are working to bring affordable health care
and living wages to our communities?

Rik Ricard -- African American researcher and writer
It's happening everywhere, not only in Santa Monica, but throughout the country. It seems as though people of African descent or native descent have no place in society anymore and everything is based on money and power.

Even though we spend $900 billion a year as a people, we still have no real power in the country. We have the power, but we don't exercise it. In Santa Monica, it's pretty much the same. They marginalize our people here in Santa Monica. They've kept them in certain areas with covenants and put the freeway right through our community instead of where it was supposed to go.

I had to move out of Santa Monica last month. My parent’s estate (in the Pico Neighborhood on 19th Street near Santa Monica College) was sold, and not to me, outside of the family. We've had it in our family since 1945. I've attempted to rent in Santa Monica, but its not a possibility unless you've got a couple thousand a month you can pay. I've experienced racism (from landlords) many times over the years.

Robert Kronovet -- real estate broker and former Rent Control Board candidate

I think Santa Monica’s policies of rent control are inherently racist, when compared to the free market economy based on economic success. Under rent control, whites have a lock on the undermarket rentals. Until vacancy decontrol kicked in, the units were handed down from one tenant to another, and whites were predominant when rent control went into effect in 1978.

Rent control also cripples the American dream by not promoting home ownership.

While whites pay under-market rates under rent control, which is not income-based, many blacks and Hispanics are in low-income housing, which causes a damage to self esteem. It sends a clear message -- you’re not able to pay free market. I find that whole idea of municipal government providing subsidized housing to be a racist policy. It gives the message to those who live here, “You are not as good.” It creates ghettoization.

Kelly Olsen -- former Council member and Planning Commissioner
I think it is very clear that to one degree or another, many blacks still languish in our society. Certainly many blacks who live in Santa Monica have felt the effects of discrimination in the workplace or in social situations along with Blacks across the country. In the not too distant past, even the City of Santa Monica has had accusations of racial discrimination in hiring and promotions.

There were many steps taken to address these issues in the 1990s, and I believe that there have been major advances. However, looming on the horizon is the distinct possibility of the City going in a direction that could take a step backwards.

The recent decision by Santa Monica City staff to contract out numerous janitorial positions could jeopardize the strong record of hiring without discrimination, which the City has built. The City has no real control over the hiring practices of private companies who supply workers to the City, and the City has no idea whether these companies are truly hiring and promoting without discrimination.

Council member Shriver's recent statements, which appear to show a willingness to accept a policy of privatization, could result in the loss of diversity of City employees. This would be a mistake and not further the vision of Dr. King.

Dr. Lawrence Edward Carter, Sr. – Baptist minister and scholar, gave keynote speach at Santa Monica’s King Day celebration

It's very true that more than 100 years later, the playing field is still not level. Unfortunately, blacks with equal credentials to the larger social order don't get equal pay. There's still great discrimination in that matter, even between men and women. As to the island of poverty mentioned by King, all I have to say is Katrina and the slowness of the response.

I don't know the specifics of Santa Monica. The issue of urban removal and urban renewal, we are embarrassed by poverty. We are embarrassed by poor people. We'd like to get them out of the way.

It's the same thing with incarceration. The whole prison system is a warehousing of people with little to no rehabilitation. In fact, they say when you go in prison, you become a more hardened criminal. There's plenty of work to be done, but there are so many things that distract us.

Capitalism has its downside and there's a lot of things that need to be overhauled. We need more teachers like King and Ghandi, so people can act from their convictions, like (Nelson) Mandela. Who would have thought that after he had been in jail for 27 plus years, that he would walk out not bitter.

It's all in intention. Eventually you have to discover that this life is not forever. The curtain is going to drop on each one of us and you have to decide, 'How do you want to be remembered? What was your contribution? What kind of rent are you going to pay for the use you made of the world? What are you going to give back?




"When any one group struggles, as a society, we have all failed." P. Lamont Ewell


"I believe things are worse because we have the same problems with no moral impetus and no national movement to create as MLK dreamed of a 'beloved community' where justice prevails.” Oscar de la Torre


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