People of all ages from the Oakland community filled the seats of Littlefield Concert Hall to hear words on community and social justice. Labor leader and civil rights activist Dolores Huerta and former California Senator Art Torres presented as guest speakers for the audience at the The Barbara Lee & Elihu Harris Lecture Series on Saturday Nov 15.
‘Where do we go from here: Chaos or community?’ was the theme for the night, taken from the title of Martin Luther King’s 1967 book. The lecture
focused on the importance of unity and leadership to inspire and gain social justice.
Both speakers stressed the need for strength of fellowship in Oakland. California natives Huerta and Torres reflected on the importance of voting in the Oakland community, explaining the low statistics in this year’s election from people of color in California in their presentations.
According to Torres, 40 percent of seventeen million registered voters in California voted in this year’s election; he broke the statistics down further by race to show the need for change by people of color and a strong community. Torres did not give up that need for social justice.
“I’m not giving up hope,” Torres said. “I’m not giving up on change, and neither should you.”
Huerta shared those sentiments as she recalled a recent experience in her childhood residence in Kern County. She discussed the lack of education and institutionalized racism against people of color in the Kern County School District, where she rallied parents of students together to organize and protest the school district.
Huerta attributed gaining that fellowship to one factor: knowledge. She explained that the audience must know the contributions of people of color, women, and so on, as well as have access to that knowledge.
“We have got to be able to give people knowledge,” Huerta said. “The only way we can counter this is to bring education and community together. ”
Each guest speaker was introduced by reflections from the hosts of the series, former Mayor of Oakland Elihu M. Harris and Congresswoman and Mills alumna Barbara Lee. Harris and Lee shared anecdotes about Huerta and Torres, each one leading to the work the two have done for their communities and causes.
Students from the Martin Luther King Jr. Freedom Center also spoke, expressing the importance of involvement from the youth. Sixteen-year-old Fernanda Castro voiced her thoughts to the young and new generations, and said that they are needed in the fight for social justice.
“The struggle for representation belongs to everyone, regardless of race, gender, age, or sexual orientation,” Castro said. “The struggle is not over. Let’s accept the challenge of moving forward together. All of us carry within ourselves great strength and power. When we join forces, put all of our hearts, minds, and voices together, we create something beautiful. We create a circle more powerful than the injustices we have faced.”
Mills first-year Maira Perez asked a question. Perez has been an active member of the Martin Luther King Jr. Freedom Center since grade seven. She gave a special request to the audience members of the series to help and contribute to the fight for change and social justice.
Perez felt that this was only a start in helping Oakland, quoting Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in her request.
“We have a lot of work ahead, and we need help from all of you,” Perez said. “Every single one of you in this room, we need you to take a stand. Dr. King used to say, ‘Every one can be great, because every one can serve.'”