Courtesy photos

AARON MORRISON

AP National Writer

For this year’s Martin Luther King Jr. Day celebration, the 37th since its federal recognition in 1986, a descendant of King hopes to spur progress by helping more Americans personalize the ongoing struggle for racial equity and harmony. Bernice King, daughter of the late civil rights icon, said people must move beyond platitudes and deepen their own commitments to the needed progress.

“We need to change our thinking,” said King, who is CEO of The King Center in Atlanta.

Under the theme “It Starts With Me,” the center launched its slate of Martin Luther King Jr. Day events on Thursday with youth and adult summits to educate the public on ways to transform unjust systems in the U.S.

The summits were streamed online and are available for replay on the center’s social media accounts.

“It seems like we’re going through these cycles, because we’re trying to approach everything with the same mindset that all of this (racial inequity) was created,” King told The Associated Press.

“Change can be very small,” she said, “but transformation means that now we changed the character, form, and nature of something. That’s something we have not seen yet.”

Other King holiday weekend events include a statue unveiling in Boston, a symposium on police brutality in Akron, Ohio, and community service projects in many U.S. cities. The holiday kicks off another year of advocacy on a racial justice agenda — from police reforms and strengthening voting rights to solutions on economic and educational disparities — that has been stymied by culture wars and partisan gridlock in Washington and nationwide.

Residents of Selma, Alabama, which played a central role in King’s legacy, woke up to extensive damage Friday from a deadly storm system that spawned tornadoes across the South. The city became a flashpoint of the civil rights movement when state troopers viciously attacked Black people who marched nonviolently for voting rights across the Edmund Pettus Bridge on March 7, 1965.

King wasn’t present for the march known as “Bloody Sunday,” but he joined a subsequent procession that successfully crossed the bridge toward the Capitol in Montgomery. The Pettus Bridge was unscathed by Thursday’s storm.

On Sunday morning, President Joe Biden is due to speak at a commemorative service at Ebenezer Baptist Church, the historic Atlanta house of worship where King preached from 1960 until his assassination in 1968. The church is pastored by the Rev. Sen. Raphael Warnock, who recently won election to a full term as Georgia’s first Black U.S. senator.

And on Monday, the federal observance of the King holiday, commemorations continue in Atlanta, as well as in the nation’s capital and beyond.

Locally, Santa Monica College (SMC) and the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Westside Coalition will host the city’s annual celebration at the John Adams Middle School Performing Arts Center (1630 Pearl St). The free event begins at 9 a.m. with a multi-ethnic, interfaith program that will include inspirational readings, speakers, music, and dance. The program also features the presentation of education awards to local students and a Community Light Award to Pepperdine University’s Foster Grandparent Program.

Immediately following the program there will be a Community Involvement Fair presenting informational displays by a variety of community organizations from 10:30 a.m. to noon in the John Adams Middle School Quad.

Civil rights icon Benjamin (Ben) Franklin Chavis, Jr. will be the keynote speaker. Dr. Chavis is currently President and CEO of the National Newspaper Publishers Association, which supports and advocates for publishers of the nation’s more than 230 black newspapers. He is an author, journalist, environmentalist, chemist, ordained minister of United Church of Christ, and global entrepreneur.

Santa Monica’s event is one of the largest in the region. The Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Westside Coalition, a nonprofit coalition whose mission is consistent with Dr. King’s legacy, is in its 38th year as the event organizer and event sponsors include the City of Santa Monica, Santa Monica College Associates, Santa Monica College, Santa Monica Malibu Unified School District, SGI-USA, RAND Corporation, Santa Monica Bay Area Human Relations Council, and a variety of other organizations and individuals.

In the decades since its establishment, the King holiday has become an opportunity for elected officials and candidates seeking office to establish their civil rights and social justice credentials. Bernice King said partisanship among politicians has been a major obstacle to legislative solutions on civil rights.

Overcoming that is “going to require elevating to a place where your loyalty is to humanity, not to party,” she said.

“If we don’t find humane ways to create policies and implement practices out of those policies, we’re going to continue in this vicious cycle of a downward spiral towards destruction and chaos.”

Outside of establishment politics, many King holiday weekend events are opportunities for Americans to give back, reflect on the civil rights icon’s legacy or deal locally with racial discrimination in their own communities.

Governor Newsom’s office sent out an email earlier in the week encouraging residents to participate in service projects in their areas.

In Los Angeles, the email suggested participation in the MLK Day of Service at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum (https://www.laworks.com/mlk). For additional information on the Santa Monica event, visit mlkjrwestside.org.

Associated Press writer Mark Pratt and the Santa Monica Daily press contributed to this report.