Children and parents gather around Bevey P. Calahan as she reads her newly published children’s book, “Shirley’s Surprise Bus Ride” on Saturday afternoon.
Children and parents gather around Bevey P. Calahan as she reads her newly published children’s book, “Shirley’s Surprise Bus Ride” on Saturday afternoon.

“Blood bursting from the seams of our American dreams like the final rapture — yet the only revelation I have come to is realizing my voice is like the second coming,” said Rainbow Theater member Missy Rae Magdalera, as she recited her poem. “Like a great flood, these words will wipe the slate clean.”

Magdalera performed in front of an audience of about 30 during “Youth Day: Celebrating Young Leaders” at the Resource Center for Non-violence’s (RCNV) fourth annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. holiday weekend event. It was a collaboration with The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and RCNV’s Project ReGeneration, a “safe, radical-thought space for Santa Cruz youth.”

“This year has far surpassed our previous annual MLK celebrations in terms of engagement,” said Project ReGeneration co-founder and co-leader Irene O’Connell. “Martin Luther King Jr. advocated for justice seekers to continue moving forward by any means, and today, there is just as much work to be done as ever if we want to truly see justice in our country.”

Youth Day was filled with music, arts and craft stations and free food for participants.

An array of booths lined the perimeter of the resource center. Other rooms in the building were filled with activities — expanding the focus of the event to more than recognizing Dr. King and his philosophy of nonviolence, but also to celebrating youth leadership and the power to cultivate King’s teachings on this given holiday.

“Hopefully we were able to highlight to the youth just how important their efforts in the community remain,” said Project ReGeneration co-leader Jay Bhukhan.

Food, What?!, a youth empowerment and food justice organization, broke down the ingredients in a taco from Taco Bell — tomatoes being one of them. A bucket filled with 80 pounds of rocks sat next to the booth to show the weight of tomatoes picked as wages earned are relative in farm labor. The demonstration included facts about the poor living conditions of certain factory farms, which dominate the meat industry, to raise awareness about food consumption.

The Santa Cruz Museum of Art and History hosted a button-making booth with phrases available like “Young=powerful” to recognize the potential for leadership of this age group.

“When critical education can be woven into creative and playful community-building, we can help build a network and foundation for youth to challenge injustice in innovative and collaborative ways,” said Project ReGeneration co-founder and co-leader Irene O’Connell.

Elsewhere, a sheet of butcher paper stretched across the floor alongside boxes of markers, encouraging attendees to artistically answer the question, “How do you create peace?” Toddlers doodled and adolescents drew images of rainbows and sunflowers.

Crafts were put on hold as an author read her new children’s book, “Shirley’s Surprise Bus Ride,” about her first time riding the bus alone in New Orleans to a circle of kids and parents.

“It’s so important for children to know that before Rosa Parks, we sat on this bus — the back of the bus, behind this sign,” said author and NAACP member Bevey P. Calahan, pointing to an illustration of a plaque on a bus seat that read “For Colored Patrons Only.”

MLK Youth Day honored these truths and fallen victims of racially driven violence. A poster board displayed their photos in memory and performers shared poems about gun violence.

“You see, these are no longer toys, they are weapons of mass destruction. They are literally being used for progress disruption,” read Rainbow Theater member Michael Rangel. “America has taught people that guns are more powerful than people, that they are the only way to resolve conflict.”

Through the RCNV, people used their three-day weekend to reflect on past oppression and continue the fight for justice.

“Hosting events like this, although a lot of work, are part of reclaiming the legacy of Dr. King,” said Project ReGeneration co-leader Jay Bhukhan. “Not as a national holiday, but as an important day for activism.”