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Iconic Black Civil Rights Leader to Speak at MLK Day Celebration

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By Lookout Staff

January 10, 2023 -- Dr. Benjamin Chavis, Jr. -- a Black civil rights leader and icon who coined the phrase "environmental racism" -- will be the keynote speaker at Monday's birthday celebration for Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in Santa Monica.

The theme of the 38th annual celebration -- one of the largest and most diverse of its kind in Southern California -- is “When you stand up for justice, you can never fail,” event organizers announced last week.

Dr. Benjamin Chavis, Jr. Dr. Benjamin Chavis, Jr. The free celebration will be held at 9 a.m. at the John Adams Middle School Performing Arts Center, 1630 Pearl Street. The event, which was held on-line last year, will be in person, and masks are required.

In addition to the speech by Chavis, a former assistant to Dr. King, the multi-ethnic, interfaith program will include inspirational readings, speakers, music and dance, organizers said.

The program also features the presentation of education awards to local students and a Community Light Award to Pepperdine University's Foster Grandparent Program.

Immediately following the program from 10:30 a.m. to noon there will be a Community Involvement Fair presenting informational displays by a variety of community organizations in the John Adams Middle School Quad.

A former assistant to Dr. King, Chavis served for two years in the mid-1990s as executive director and CEO of The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), the nation's oldest civil rights organization.

Two years later, he served as national director of the Million Man March and was the founder and CEO of the National African American Leadership Summit (NAALS).

In 2001, Chavis became CEO and co-Chairman of the Hip-Hop Summit Action Network, a non-profit "dedicated to harnessing the cultural relevance of Hip-Hop music to serve as a catalyst for education advocacy and other societal concerns fundamental to the empowerment of youth," according to the group's website.

Chavis co-authored the landmark study “Toxic Waste and Race in the United States.”

The annual celebration is presented by The Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Westside Coalition, a nonprofit coalition whose mission is consistent with Dr. King's legacy.

Event sponsors include the City of Santa Monica, Santa Monica College Associates, Santa Monica College, Santa Monica Malibu Unified School District, SGI-USA, RAND Corporation, Santa Monica Bay Area Human Relations Council and a variety of other organizations and individuals.

More information is available by emailing or by calling 818-207-3934 or 310-434-4100.

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