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WILSHIRE BLVD. — The ceremony in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s birth, held at the World Culture Center Auditorium here on Monday, became more than a remembrance — it was also a call to community involvement in light of the recent shootings in Tucson and the suicide of a local 14-year-old boy that has shaken many in Santa Monica.

Put on by The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Westside Coalition, the gathering was the 26th annual event and was subtitled, “Democracy is not a spectator sport; We must take action now!”

In embracing that message, speakers urged the audience of several hundred to respond to tragedy by taking responsibility to improve their communities. The event also featured musical performances and the announcement of the coalition’s scholarship awards.

In her keynote address, Val Zavala, vice-president of news and public affairs at television station KCET Los Angeles, said the Tucson rampage should be an occasion for self reflection and community improvement.

She urged the audience not to quickly fall into normal patterns of behavior in the wake of the event, saying King would seek to draw a lasting lesson from the event.

“He was a man who did not shrink from soul searching, who was not afraid to ask hard questions or accept hard answers,” said Zavala, who also anchors the weekly KCET news program “SoCal Connected.” “[King] would want us to takes this seemingly senseless shooting and make some sense of it.”

Echoing a call from many commentators in recent days, she said the shootings provide an occasion to make a forceful call for civility from elected leaders, media commentators and regular citizens.

Citing King’s own words from more than 40 years ago, she said that would be the civil rights leader’s message today: “We will have to repent in this generation, not merely for the vitriolic words and actions of bad people, but for the appalling silence of good people.”

She also urged the audience to take a more active role in a broader political sense, citing threats to the environment and equality in America.

“Our persistent suicidal habits are destroying the very habitat that nurtures us,” she said. “The unregulated capitalist forces are delivering vast amounts of wealth into the hands of the few, many of whom are unconcerned with the common good.”

In brief remarks before a musical performance by her students, Leila Steinberg, who founded the organization Alternative Intervention Models, said King’s message of community involvement is also highly relevant in the wake of the suicide on Friday of Santa Monica High School freshman Matthew Mezza, who took his life by jumping off of the Sheraton Delfina hotel’s 10th floor.

“When you see someone suffering, you have to use your voice,” she said. “You have to speak up and take that risk.”

The Westside Coalition’s 2011 scholarship award winners also gave brief speeches. The winners were: Iliana Gonzalez and Raymundo Reyes, both of Santa Monica College, and Tamura Davis, of St. Monica Catholic High School.

nickt@www.smdp.com

View a YouTube video of one of the performances during the MLK event.

http://www.youtube.com/user/JaqRoxMusic?feature=mhum#p/a/u/0/QKr72LcUDao

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