Students use art to express plight of the oppressed
■ Chronicle News Staff
Mt. San Jacinto College hosted its 13th Annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Unity Breakfast last Monday in celebration of Martin Luther King Day.
The federal holiday, which is held annually on the third Monday of January, celebrates the life and achievements of Martin Luther King Jr., the influential American civil rights leader.
The Library at Mt. San Jacinto College was filled to capacity with students and residents of the San Jacinto Valley as well as from Banning and other cities. Members of the MSJC faculty, staff, and local government officials all showed up so there were about 150 people joining together for a meal.
They were there to honor the life and work of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. The event had the theme, “Resistance to racism and intolerance,” a topic that pervaded the room and was the topic of many conversations.
Path of resistance
One of the highlights was a talk by guest speaker Dr. Jordan B. Smith Jr. (USMC ret.), who inspired the crowd with his life story, which he called, “My path of resistance through racism.” Smith served in the U.S. Marine Corps, rising to the rank of major during his highly decorated service career.
Smith shared much about his life and how he overcame racism to become one of the most honored members of the Marines to achieve a true leadership role. He spoke of how Dr. King’s leadership inspired him throughout his career in the military and later when he arrived here in the San Jacinto Valley. He told the audience, “Dr. King had a vision. He had a dream. I didn’t know at that time that he was speaking to me.” He also reminded the audience: “Intelligence plus character is what we need today.”
Today, our valley is reaping the benefits of Smith’s training and accomplishments. He is highly recognized as a developer of young people where he teaches math at Mountain View High School in San Jacinto. Mountain View High School is a public, alternative school with 244 students in grades 9-12 with a student-teacher ratio of 21 to 1.
“I am a restorer. I change their mindsets,” Smith told the audience, noting that he helps many of his students graduate. “I make them believe in their abilities.” He told the story of one difficult student who refused to cooperate in class. One day, after class, he discovered the student liked to draw, so he asked him to prepare a drawing for the class every week. The drawings were posted high on the walls of the classroom, and the student gradually began to join the classroom routine.
“Today, my weapon is my education. When I became a doctor (PhD) people started listening,” he explained.
The annual Unity Breakfast at MSJC brings the community together to remember the message and work of Dr. King to promote social justice and equity through artistic presentations and speeches. Guests enjoyed an ample breakfast, numerous singing and dance performances, speaker presentations, and viewed the results of a student art contest. MSJC Political Science Professor Willie Hamilton, who coordinated and hosted the event and similar past MLK breakfasts in conjunction with the MSJC Diversity Committee, announced that this would be his last breakfast honoring the life and work of Dr. King, as he was retiring this year.
MSJC student Wayne Yeager Jr., of Hemet, won first place in the MLK Day Unity Breakfast art contest for his mixed-media art installation that represents poverty, racism and other societal challenges among tribal nations in America. He said he started the piece, shaped like a shanty home, in December and used material left in dumpsters to create his winning work of art that was displayed in front of the Library where guests entering could admire it.
“I wanted to tackle all the problems out there,” Yeager said. “I started with poverty on a reservation.”
His “We Are Still Here” installation even features a working faucet through which flows oil and rust to represent the controversial Dakota Access Pipeline.
MSJC student Delisa Williams of Banning won honorable mention for her “Dream Come True” art that features Dr. King and President Barack and First Lady Michelle Obama.
Prof. John Knuth, MSJC Art Gallery Curator and Art Chairperson, announced that the MSJC Foundation and President Roger Schultz’s office helped commission an oil canvas painting by San Jacinto artist Barbara Rivera called “Our Future.” Featuring children from every continent around the world, the painting will hang in the school library. “We are all a part of the community of the world,” she said. “Children are represented from North America, Central and South America, Asia, Australia, the Arabic countries, Polynesia, Antarctica, Norway, and Native American communities.”
The breakfast also featured performers Toni Malone, who portrayed a forgotten slave and the legendary Aretha Franklin. Also performing are the Praise Dancers and Choir of the First Missionary Baptist Church in Banning, and The Julie Simon Tropicaleiza Drummers.
Malone told The Valley Chronicle that Aretha Franklin, Patti Labelle and her father inspired her to be a singer. Her father was a minister and she was exposed to gospel music early on. “I was so honored to be able to work with Aretha, Neil Diamond, Gladys Knight, and have performed in theater. I am a writer and a poet also.”
All the same inside
She observed, “Our skin may be different on the outside, but we all are the same inside. We are living in some scary times; but if everyone will come together and stick together like in the old time, and stand for something, then the only winner will be God who created us all. No matter what race or creed or color you are, hang in there and strive for your dreams … we all have a dream.”
She also pointed out that, “Education is important. It’s the key to your life. If you don’t have education nowadays, you won’t go anywhere. Now you have to have a degree to have a career. Education is the avenue to get what you need. They say money is the root of all evil, but it takes money to survive today. And it takes education to get the money. So take the opportunity and learn, learn everything you can.”
Prof. Hamilton and the Mt. San Jacinto College Diversity Committee thanked the MSJC Board of Trustees and Superintendent/President Roger Schultz for their continued support and participation in the annual event, celebrating and life and work of Dr. King.
After the event, he told us, “Education is the way to overcome racism. Focus on your education to overcome barriers in your way. The importance of education is power. Get as much as you can, as early as you can. And use it to make a contribution to your community. I’m happy today that I have done my job.”
He hopes the community and the MSJC Diversity Committee will continue to support this event beyond the MLK breakfasts that he has organized.
The event also was supported by the local Hemet and San Jacinto chapter of the Human Relations Council. Michael Madrigal, who coordinated the Council’s efforts to support the MLK Breakfast, announced at the event the Black History Month Essay Contest to be held in January and February. Details are available on the organization’s website: www.humanrelationscouncil.com.
Dennis Fletcher and Chris Smith of The Valley Chronicle contributed to this article prepared largely by Karin Marriott of Mt. San Jacinto Junior College.