Desde la Logan: What does Martin Luther King mean to you?

DesdeLaLoganLogoOn Martin Luther King, Jr. Day [in 2013] I attended the All People Celebration that took place at the San Diego Public Market here in Barrio Logan. With the event taking place in my neighborhood I wanted to put together a column that somehow related to MLK. Since every news media outlet in San Diego was covering the event I knew I had to think up a different approach than the rest of them. So, as I walked the two blocks from my apartment to the location of the celebration I decided that I would ask as many people as I could recognize a single question: What does Martin Luther King represent to you? These are their thoughtful responses.

mlk5“Non violent change. We gotta be a better society.”
– Bob Filner, Mayor of San Diego

“To me it’s about service to others. How are you doing something to make the world better? How are you part of making the world better. You do that by being in service. In my case, as a public servant, days like this make you feel good. It’s what you work for. It’s what you strive for.”
David Alvarez, San Diego City Councilman District 8 

“Obviously Martin Luther King means to all of us, struggle. And the optimism that one person can really make a difference if they really are persistant and committed to what they want to achieve. For me he is an inspiration. Sometimes as you struggle to try to make a difference you may be out there by yourself and you may not even see that what you are doing really is important. But when you look at what Dr. King did it really says one person can change the world. And so he inspires me daily.”
– Dr. Shirley Weber, California State Assembly member 79th District

“Martin Luther King to me is a hero not only to the civil rights movement but also to the labor movement. A lot of people forget that when he was killed he mlk4was actually in Memphis standing up for the rights of sanitation workers to unionize. And the fact that economic justice is such a critical portion of social justice and civil rights. Martin Luther King understood that and I think a lot of that legacy has been forgotten.”
– Lorena Gonzalez, Secretary/Treasurer of the San Diego and Imperial Counties Labor Council AFL-CIO

“He means hope. He means dignity. He means justice. He means that if we all pull together we can change this world.”
– Andrea Guerrero, Executive Director of Alliance San Diego

“He’s the essence of what we should all be striving for: one world. We’re all of the same race. The human race. He walked the walk. And unfortunately, there’s too few of us that are doing that today. So I think that it is important to recognize the work of Martin Luther King not only today but every day. Only love can overcome hate and light can overcome darkness. I truly believe in those principles.”
Enrique Morones, President and founder of Border Angels

mlk3“Martin Luther King represents freedom, to me, of all people. Freedom in the sense of having access to all of the opportunities that all of us would wish for our children to have. His words and his legacy are core to many of us, all of us. I would like to think everybody in the world hears his voice today and always so that we can walk forward and continue to strive to make this a just world. An equal world. A world where everybody has the same opportunities and encouragement from each other to make a better world.”
– Olivia Puentes-Reynolds, municipal government retiree

“Everything! When I was growing up in San Diego the African American civil rights movement was the first thing that hit me. Young teens, 1965, Chicano Movement was beginning but not for me. But what was visible to me was MLK and Malcolm X. I remember reading the autobiography of Malcolm X and how transformative that was for me. And I remember being mesmerized by MLK and the movement. And a movement that spoke to the racism I experienced in San Diego first. To have those writings and that movement on TV be so transformative was something I’ll never forget. And it certainly started me on my path to doing everything I’ve done since then. And I remember my obsession and my mother saying to me: ‘I don’t see why you care. You aren’t black.’ And yet I had been called nigger as a child, as a school kid in San Diego because I kind of looked a little mulata. It was the moment for a lot of us who didn’t have Chicano lit yet. And it was for a lot of people of my generation, the African American movement was transformative and was our entree to other movements. And just to hear my racial reality spoken in that way changed me forever.”
– Gail Perez, professor and co-founder of University of San Diego’s Ethnic Studies Program

mlk2What Martin Luther King represents to me is equality for all. Really beginning to look at connecting our communities, something that is an ongoing process. Something that we do on a daily basis at MAAC. We honor that. We practice that on a regular basis and we hope to increase the efforts in the community by increasing equality for all. It really benefits the community as a whole to ensure that everybody benefits and are prosperous together.”
– Arnulfo Manríquez, President and Chief Executive Officer of MAAC

“I think that he is a historical figure that has established that there needs to be a commitment towards social justice in this country. MLK is part of that legacy. I think that despite all of the infighting we have in this country I think to take a moment and pause about the struggles of Martin Luther King, his commitment to nonviolence, civil rights issues, is something that we need to uphold. And I think particularly now, in which social movements are frowned upon in this country, to uphold the legacy of Martin Luther King today, in this day and age, is also a sign of resistance. Also a sign of encouragement for a new generation of civil rights leadership.”
– Christian Ramirez, Human Rights Director for Alliance San Diego

“Martin Luther King to me means power. It means community power. It means the ability for one person and a group of people to come together and achieve a common goal around things that disenfranchise them. It really means building that power and being able to stand up for yourself and your community.”
– Matthew Yagyagan, Special Projects Organizer for Alliance San Diego

“Martin Luther King for me represents a struggle for civil rights and social justice. A brave man who inspired and lead a movement that in many ways continues, although in different forms, today.”
Ysidro D. Ortiz, Alliance San Diego board member and Chicana/Chicano Studies professor at SDSU

mlk1“He is a very important person in our history who spoke out against many important issues at the time. He brought up issues like militarism and greed and racism. And he explained how those are all connected. And unfortunately today we have individuals who will speak out about one of those issues but not all of them. They don’t understand the connections. We need to look back more towards his philosophy and what he said and learn from it.”
– Rick Jahnkow, Project on Youth and Nonmilitary Opportunities program coordinator

“Martin Luther King is obviously very inspirational to us as members of the clergy. He’s really a conscience. An overarching conscience. Keeping us in check. And not letting us get too far ahead. Really allowing us to stay grounded and focused on what we need to do.”
– Father Don Green, Community of Independent Catholic Churches and board member of Justice Overcoming Boundaries

“Martin Luther King, what he means to me is really standing up for what you believe in. Standing up for what’s right even when it’s not popular to do so.”
– Consuelo Martinez, American Civil Liberties Union

“In the present day it means as a woman I’m educated. I can vote. People worked really hard for those rights. But now it means that I can be part of a community that cares. This place is filled with people who are all working forward for equality.”
Jodie McGovern, host committee for the All Peoples Celebration

“He stood up and fought for rights. What that means to me is that we need to stand up when we see injustices and call them out and address those issues until there are no longer injustices.”
– Georgette Gomez, Environmental Health Coalition

mlk6“At Reality Changers we see the results of Martin Luther King’s dream everyday. Where low income inner city students who might never have a chance to go to college have that opportunity now to get big scholarships to the best universities across the country. Where I look for inspiration and when I’m trying to inspire the students it’s his words that inspire me to really find just the right way to connect with students looking to do something greater with their lives.”
– Christopher Janov, Founder and President of Reality Changers

“Martin Luther King means everything. He along with Cesar Chavez and Saul Price were my mentors. The real lesson from Martin Luther King is the whole thing that everybody can be great because everybody can serve. You just need a heart full of love and a soul generated to make things happen.”
– Carlos LeGerrette, Executive Director of Cesar Chavez Service Club

I want to thank all of the interviewees for their heartfelt responses. It is people like them and many others that help keep the dream of Martin Luther King, Jr. alive for future generations.


Brent E. Beltrán

Brent E. Beltrán is a third generation pocho and second generation San Diegan that lives next door to Chicano Park in Barrio Logan. He's the former publisher of Calaca Press, is married to his dreaming heart watcher and is the proud father of a preschool Dino-saur. He writes the somewhat irregular column Desde la Logan, is a member of the SDFP Editorial Board and is on the Barrio Logan Planning Group. He can be contacted via email at and through his Twitter account @DesdeLaLogan.

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  1. avatarAnna Daniels says

    Brent- we are familiar enough with the individuals you interviewed to appreciate some of the glimpses into the personal experiences that shape their perceptions of MLK. Thank you for that.

    • avatarBrent Beltran says

      Yes. I knew most of the people I interviewed as well. A lot of people there that I did not recognize. Specifically within the African American community. Unfortunately, I didn’t ask interviews from people I didn’t know. One of the shortcomings of this piece. I/we must make effort to reach out to other communities. Specifically the African and Asian American ones.