Ten Santa Cruz community members met at the Del Mar Theater on Jan. 13, but rather than watching a film, they gathered to discuss one. The discussion, co-hosted by the Resource Center for Nonviolence (RCNV) and Santa Cruz’s National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), was one of many local celebrations titled “Celebrating Compassion and Courage: In the Spirit of Martin Luther King Jr.”

Illustration by Kelsey Hill.
Illustration by Kelsey Hill.

“Selma” — the film of interest on Tuesday night — portrays a critical point in the Civil Rights Movement in 1963 when four young African American girls were murdered in a church bombing in Birmingham, Alabama. The murders, as well as the three marches from Selma, Alabama to Montgomery, Alabama were catalysts of the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Local pastor and leader of Tuesday’s discussion Darrell Darling participated in the Selma marches and corroborated the acts of courage and brutality exemplified on screen. Darling furthered the discussion by explaining how young people today resonate with the methods of older generations and now engage with other college students to move human agenda forward.

“The founders of the RCNV were a collective and were just out of college, or in college, when it was being formed,” Darling said. “That has to happen again. [Older generations] can’t make that happen.”

RCNV youth-focused subgroup Project ReGeneration draws on the principles from nonviolent actors such as Dr. King. UC Santa Cruz alumnus and nonviolence training coordinator Jay Bhukhan works alongside members to discuss the elements of political activism.

“[Those principles include] practicing empathy and compassion and taking very seriously the notion of love in the community,” Bhukhan said. “A lot of that is what it comes down to — it’s almost a spiritual element to political activism and finding that peace within yourself is just as important, according to King.”

This compassionate spirit will be exemplified in Project ReGeneration’s “Youth Day: Celebrating Young Leaders” on Jan. 17 at the RCNV, Bhukhan said. At the event, Santa Cruz youth can celebrate the accomplishments of leaders like King but can also learn about being leaders themselves.

“Youth will be in positions of leadership,” Bhukhan said. “It’s not just people learning about each other, it’s about people engaging with each other. It’s about youth hosting their own workshops and other youth participating in them. It puts youth in a position of leadership — and they are leaders themselves. We really want to cultivate that.”

Saturday’s celebration will kick off at noon with youth-led collaborative art projects ranging from spin art involving chalk and bicycles, to printmaking and prayer flag design. A DJ from KZSC will hold a session on how to make beats and another DJ will broadcast music while a dance workshop takes place.

The day will include a 21-and-under “open mic,” with performances ranging from poetry to music to dance, Bhukhan said. The event will end with a featured production by UCSC Rainbow Theater groups Poet’s Corner and Outreach.

“We assume that with laws we can just sweep away our vicious self-protected history, and we’ve come a long way, but we’re in the middle,” discussion leader Darling said. “My perspective is long-range. We have not been regenerated as a whole species, but you see lights, like Gandhi, Mother Teresa and Martin Luther King [Jr.], and movements gather around them.”

Though Dr. King’s birthday is only one day of the year, Project ReGeneration, the RCNV and the NAACP devoted four to remember his accomplishments. The events taking place in recognition of this kind of “light,” as Darling called it, ask for the public’s observation, and perhaps more importantly, its participation.

“The young people need to know what we know — what we’ve done and the history,” said Noreen Winkler, a Santa Cruz resident and participant in Tuesday’s discussion. “We need to learn from each other. We need each other to make change happen.”