When searching for a theme for this year’s annual Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Week, Jan. 22–25, organizers kept coming back to the word “humanity.”
Doris Martinez, director of Highline College’s Multicultural Affairs and member of the MLK Jr. Week committee member, said the planning committee usually draws upon current events and times for inspiration. This year, they took note that the nation is in a time of change, and they looked at triumphs and challenges we’ve faced.
Through that brainstorming, the theme “Nothing to Lose: Preserving Humanity in the Face of Trauma” was born.
Back when the 13-member planning committee started organizing MLK Jr. Week, Martinez explained an October 2018 report on global climate change caused members to question how we can preserve humanity, our earth and the love that all of us were ultimately built upon.
“Despite what is going on, despite the turmoil, despite the anger, despite the inequities and injustices in the world, how do we find the beauty in humanity?” she said.
“People are frustrated but people still want to love. People still seek humanity and still seek community.”
While Martinez said the courageous conversations during MLK Jr. Week won’t be easy, the week will illuminate our current times with a sense of looking toward hope as “Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. did throughout his life in the midst of trauma.”
With the inspiration for this theme in mind, the committee chose Terisa Siagatonu as the keynote speaker. Siagatonu is a poet who identifies as a queer Samoan woman and activist, and has performed at the United Nations Conference on Climate Change in Paris, among other notable places.
Martinez said a committee member had the opportunity to listen to one of Siagatonu’s pieces and when she introduced her to the rest of the committee, they were hooked.
“We got to see a few of her YouTube features,” Martinez said. “The way she spoke about her upbringing and the earth and also talking about equity within that, it’s often time that you don’t look at environmental justice and social inequities in one basket.”
And, yet, Martinez said the two are intertwined.
“… I think [Siagatonu] will really set the tone for what we are looking to embody throughout the week,” she said.
In addition to native storytelling and a workshop on the “13 airs” of the soul, the week will feature a showing of documentary “My People Are Rising” by director Rafael Flores, with a reception to follow, honoring former Black Panther Party Captain Aaron Dixon.
Although Highline College will be celebrating and honoring King during this week, Martinez said people can keep his legacy alive always by striving to dismantle oppression each day.
She explained we can do this by doing our own work — through not just being able to actively listen to someone who triggers you or listening to someone’s pain — but by constantly being able to “check oneself” and be aware.
“Are we perfect? Am I perfect?” Martinez asked. “No, not one bit. But I also can admit when I’m at fault, when I’m at wrong. And how do you acknowledge when you’re wrong and continue a commitment to be better? That’s how you keep his legacy alive.”
Although, she pointed out, it’s not just about keeping his legacy alive, but recognizing the movement King started.
“As a community, globally, we still have a lot of work to do,” she said. “But, I think if we can learn to listen to one another in the midst of trauma, in the midst of pain, and vow to at least walk together in the same direction towards change, I think we will be on to something.”