By Sarah Welsh
City on a Hill Press Reporter

Two hundred years after Abraham Lincoln was born and 100 years after the NAACP was founded, the 25th annual Martin Luther King Convocation was held at the Santa Cruz Civic Auditorium.

The convocation celebrates the life and vision of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Speakers discuss civil rights issues including justice, freedom and opportunity. This annual event also seeks to build dialogue between the UC Santa Cruz and Santa Cruz communities.

UCSC Chancellor George Blumenthal, in his opening remarks, called on audience members to reflect on how far the nation has come in 200 years. He called the convocation “an example of the way UCSC contributes to the community.”

The convocation also included the presentation of the Tony Hill Award for Community Service to an individual who demonstrates “the hallmarks of Tony Hill’s life: mentor, inspirational leader, gifted mediator and bridge-builder in our community.”

Hill, who served on the Convocation Planning Committee for a number of years, died in August 2007.

The award was given to Luis Allejo, a staff attorney for California Rural Legal Assistance, a nonprofit that helps the poor in California. Hill’s wife, Melanie Stern Hill, and daughter Tara Kemp presented the award to Allejo, who assists English- and Spanish-speaking people who cannot afford a private attorney.

In a gracious acceptance speech, Allejo described Hill as “one in a million” and encouraged audience members to keep “fighting the good fight.”

Van Jones, the keynote speaker, came after the award ceremony. Jones’s fame, both as a speaker and an activist, packed the auditorium.

“He’s dynamic,” audience member Norma DelGaudio said. “That’s why I’m here.”

Jones is the founding president of Green for All, an organization whose mission is to build a green economy: one that fixes the ecological crisis and provides jobs for millions of workers.

To thunderous applause, Jones took the stage.

“Yes we can,” Jones said. “And yes we did.”

Jones praised the American people for persevering, and for electing “the skinny guy with the funny name and big ears.”

People cannot rely on consumption and credit to keep the economy going, Jones said, and cannot run the economy on ecological destruction. He called for a turn-around in ideas about economic growth that would promote clean energy and provide jobs for workers.

Jones called for “construction over destruction” and “production over consumption.” He said that we haven’t recognized “our clean energy power centers” and that “the green economy can save us all.”

“We need to renew our politics, reinvent our economy, and recreate civilization,” Jones said.

Jones’ powerful one-liners were welcomed with continuous ovations. His main stance on how to change our current situation, a call to “fight pollution and poverty at the same time,” was well-received by audience members.

After the speech, Santa Cruz Mayor Cynthia Mathews described Jones as having “a high-energy resonance with the values of this community.” She described him as relevant and exciting for the future.

The success of the convocation was evident in the enthusiastic reactions of the audience members, but there is still much work to be done.

As Jones said, “In 100 years the question will be asked: Were we locusts or were we honey bees?”

<a href="">Discuss and share this story on SlugLife.</a>