SOS for MLK
By Alex Distefano
To say that the city of San Bernardino is having financial difficulties would be the year’s biggest understatement. The city’s bankruptcy nightmare led to major cuts in the police and fire departments, as well as other public services such as parks and libraries, along with a bitter battle with California Public Employees Retirement System (CalPERS) and even more concerned citizens wondering about public safety; not to mention creditors seeking to sue the city in court.
But as 2013 approaches, a myriad of local civic leaders, community groups and organizations are coming together to help raise money for a cause they contend is important: repairing the damaged 11-foot tall statue of the late Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., a national hero from the civil rights movement, who was brutally murdered by James Earl Ray in Memphis, Tenn. in 1968.
“We are committed to ensuring young and old people alike do not forget Dr. Martin Luther King, his mission, legacy and what the statue stands for,” says Francis Grice, committee member of the coalition of groups and organizations that has come together in an effort to save the monument.
The gigantic historic statue of the Civil Rights leader is beginning to show signs of major damage including major cracks and chips. The statue has been in place in front of the San Bernardino City Hall Building since 1981 and is known as the first “bigger than life statue” of Dr. King in the world.
According to Joseph Williams, fundraising chairman for the non-profit The Black Culture Foundation, all parties involved acknowledged that funds from the city itself are not available for repairs and maintenance of the statue. So this is why, according to Williams, the effort to raise funds began in the first place.
To completely renovate the statue will cost $8,500 dollars, according to estimates, but Williams said that the project does not stop at just fixing the statue.
“We are close to meeting the goal. There are two phases to the fundraising project so folks still can make contributions to it,” Williams says. “The $8,500 is for the actual renovation work then there is funds needed for the continued maintenance, some beautification and future educational programs,” he says.
Williams says that so far a good response has been seen from the community, including some private citizens and even corporate donors.
“The goal is so this statue doesn’t go back into this condition again,” Williams says. “We definitely want to have an educational element to this project as well, we haven’t decided yet. Maybe there could be a kiosk and we want public art projects there as well, and students to come down and learn about Dr. King and his legacy. We want to plant trees and flowers to ensure people will come down and visit.”
Williams also mentions that another goal of the project is to eventually include other figures from the civil rights movement that have been forgotten—and maybe local figures from that era. “If you think about what Dr. King stood for, he opened the path for a lot of folks to have the organizations they have now to even be in existence,” he says.
Williams stresses the importance of local issues being solved by local problems and insisted that this emblematic statue was vital to the city. “If we can’t come together on something as fixing a statue how can we fix our city?” he asks.
“We know the city’s in bankruptcy, but this is symbolic of the community can come together to solve local problems. People from all cultures, races, cultures, sex, and religions are coming together on common ground. We want to use this as an example of how local people can solve problems at this level,” he says.
The goal, according to Williams, is to have the statue repaired in time to celebrate Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday on Jan. 21.