By Hannah Brandt and Karen Crozier
“Why America May Go to Hell” was to be one of Martin Luther King’s sermon in April of 1968. He gave it as a speech at a march of striking sanitation workers in Memphis, Tennessee just days before he died. While in Memphis, his sermon was sent to his church, Ebenezer, in Atlanta, GA on April 3, 1968, the day before he was assassinated.
Dr. Karen Crozier, the Director of Faculty Development and Diversity at Fresno Pacific University (FPU) and Associate Professor of Practical Theology at Fresno Pacific Biblical Seminary, is working to reclaim and recover the radical King. With community partners Crozier has been organizing a campus commemoration of King’s life and legacy for six years. This year the event was coordinated with Alliant University, members of the Chicano community, freelancers, the Social Justice Ministry of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Fresno, the West Side Church of God, and New Light for New Life Church of God.
There was good turn out this year with a broad array of people from the faith community, academia, and youth and young adults. The hall was at nearly full capacity for the speakers from 5-9 PM, with people standing and overflowing into the chapel. Prior to the King Celebration, there was a rally. Crozier said, “The King Celebration Rally was new this year. It had a trifold purpose: to celebrate the life and legacy of King, to promote the King Celebration event, and to raise consciousness about racial justice today.” She felt it was vital to renew King’s call for peace and engage the community in current issues.
For the King Celebration Rally, Dr. Crozier was a co-organizer who collaborated with Luis Ojeda, the state coordinator of California Immigrant Youth Justice Alliance, Stephanie Kamey, the Central Valley Regional Organizer for the ACLU of Northern California and Ernesto Saavedra of the local chapter of the East Bay Asian Youth Center and the Fresno Brown Berets. The organizers wanted the event to be an alternative to the city sanctioned rally and march through downtown Fresno. She said that about 60 people showed up on a rainy day representing diverse socio-economic, religious, political, and racial, ethnic backgrounds to lend their voice in celebration of King.
Crozier was pleased the King Celebration was a “well-designed, interconnected effort.” During the peace circles at the Celebration, individuals could engage in safe spaces for break-out sessions. It was important to those involved with the event to “not only allow those on stage to have a voice.” Although the community beyond the campus walls was better represented than both Fresno Pacific University and Alliant University student body and faculty, it was nevertheless a great event for both university and community participants. CSU Fresno has the opposite phenomenon: many students turn out for their events dedicated to Martin Luther King, but very little of the community attends.
In years past, many of Crozier’s own FPU students attended these memorials to Dr. King. She did not teach any courses this academic year, and that definitely contributed to a decrease in student attendance. She is working on encouraging faculty on how to integrate the event into their curriculum and syllabi. Nevertheless, Dr. Crozier is optimistic because the university did not have any events honoring Martin Luther King Jr until she organized the first one six years ago. This despite the fact that students in the 1960’s and 70’s, including this author’s father, were active on campus advocating King’s message of peace and protesting the Vietnam War.
In the future, Crozier hopes to get more of the faculty, students, and staff to attend, as well. Going forward the aim is to bring younger generations to the full measure of King’s activism. This is necessary because the domesticated version of King that is perpetuated most of the time in the media, in our education system, and by those in power, is not helpful to achieving his goals.
Fortunately, in honoring King’s commitment to racial healing and justice, Black Lives Matter is taking shape in the Central Valley. The first local meeting was on February 5 in Fresno. There was “new energy and new partners” at the sixth annual commemoration of Martin Luther King Jr. at FPU. The rally for justice was organized by young local activists who suggested the idea to Dr. Crozier. She said, “They brought it to me and I said, let’s go!”
Hannah Brandt is the editor of Community Alliance newspaper. Contact her at editor@ fresnoalliance.com or hrbananah@ gmail.com. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram @HannahBP2. Dr. Karen Crozier is the Director of Faculty Development and Diversity at Fresno Pacific University (FPU) and Associate Professor of Practical Theology at Fresno Pacific Biblical Seminary. Contact her at Karen.Crozier@ fresno.edu.