Keeping Martin Luther King Jr.’s words at the forefront

By Tammy Asnicar for Revels

“We are now faced with the fact that tomorrow is today. We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now. In this unfolding conundrum of life and history, there is such a thing as being too late. There is an invisible book of life that faithfully records our vigilance or our neglect.” — Martin Luther King Jr.

“We need to keep Martin Luther King’s words at the forefront,” says Roy H. Saigo, the keynote speaker at the 30th annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day celebration on Monday in Ashland.

The theme of this year’s event — The Fierce Urgency of Now — is taken from King’s 1967 speech “Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence.”

The “fierce urgency” of 50 years ago still faces us today, Saigo says.

And, the greatest fear is of those who remain silent in the wake of the current political and social climate.

After four young African-American girls were killed on Sept. 15, 1963, in an explosion at the16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama, King criticized not the attackers but those whose silence allowed such an act of violence, Saigo says.

“It’s a sad state of affairs that we are in the same milieu,” he says.

A past president of Southern Oregon University, Saigo says that he is honored to be a part of Monday’s observance of the slain civil rights leader’s birthday.

The festivities begin at noon at the Historic Ashland Armory, 208 Oak St. The 90-minute tribute to King’s legacy includes performances by students from Ashland and Scenic middle schools, the Bishop Mayfield Band, Phoenix Sigalove, David Young and the Shabbat Shirah Ensemble, and returning master of ceremonies, D.L. Richardson.

For overflow attendees, a simulcast live stream will be presented at the Varsity Theatre, 166 E. Main St.

The doors to the armory and theater will open at 11:30 a.m. Seating is limited at both venues and available on a first-come basis.

Cassie Fetty, the director and curator of this year’s event, encourages folks to arrive early, dress warmly and prepare for rain.

Admission is free, but visitors are encouraged to bring nonperishable food donations for ACCESS.

At 1:30 p.m., the Ashland High School and Southern Oregon University Black Student Unions will lead a march to the Ashland Plaza to listen to a recording of King’s “I Have a Dream” speech.

The entire event and online simulcast will be American Sign Language interpreted.

Saigo, who served as interim president of SOU from July 2014 to July 2016, is recognized as an outspoken advocate for fair and equitable policies on university campuses. His stance against racism, prejudice and bullying has often put him at great personal and professional peril.

“I speak for those who have no voice,” he says.

A native of the Sacramento Valley in California and of Japanese descent, Saigo and his parents and siblings were interned during World War II at the Gila River War Relocation Center in Arizona. He says his convictions are influenced by the experience.

Through photographs, slides and recollection of the injustices his family suffered during and after the war, he will invite the audience to go on a trip with him, he says of his presentation set for Monday.

The majority will have difficulty imagining the brutality his family faced and the hysteria and demonization simply based on ethnicity, he says.

Saigo believes that King’s battle to promote dignity, compassion and justice for all people continues especially under our current national leadership.

“Dr. King’s words still ring true,” says Fetty, a community producer with the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. “With a diversity of live performances, our program seeks to highlight the importance of action versus complacency, especially when it comes to our youth.”

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