Students reflect on the legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day

Dr. Martin Luther King poster in Skyline's Library.

Max Maller/The Skyline View

Dr. Martin Luther King poster in Skyline's Library.

This year, the federal holiday that honors Martin Luther King, Jr., carried special weight. The killing of Michael Brown by a police officer in Ferguson, Mo., as well as Eric Garner’s suffocation and death weeks earlier at the hands of New York City Police, remained fresh in the minds of many.

Bay Area residents remembered King by staging protests of their own.
Non-violent demonstrations began in Oakland on Friday morning, Jan 16. Over the weekend, protestors successfully shut down several BART stations. On Monday evening, Jan. 19, dozens of protestors assembled on the San Mateo-Hayward Bridge, blocking traffic in both directions.

Some see the protests as a justified reaction to current events.

“The application of law is disproportionately targeting people of color,” Mustafa Popal, a Skyline history professor, said. “This is the first Martin Luther King Jr holiday in my conscious lifetime that we’re doing what we should be doing when we have these days of commemoration.”

Popal did not attend the demonstrations, but in his previous teaching position at the College of Alameda, his classroom topics included the history of protest movements and constitutional law.

“We need to understand that racial injustice at its core is a moral issue that this country has been grappling with since its inception,” Popal said via e-mail.
Others find it harder to embrace acts of civil disobedience. Nicolle Harris, President of the Associated Students of Skyline College and the Black Student Union Treasurer, knew about the protests, but chose not to attend.

“My Martin Luther King Jr Day was pretty much spent with my son looking at documentaries, talking about our history, talking about voting,” Harris said. “When you had that opportunity to vote, which was your voice, you didn’t choose to do that. I think we need to get more aware of what’s going on politically.”

In the past, Harris, who is legally blind, routinely attended Martin Luther King Jr Day marches in San Francisco.

“For the longest time, San Francisco was the only city that was still doing a Martin Luther King Jr Day march,” Harris said. “And then it stopped two or three years ago. But I used to always take my son. “

This year, she was concerned the demonstrations might turn violent.

“I don’t feel safe because I can’t see and I don’t know what’s going on. And it’s not to say that what they’re marching for isn’t right, it’s just that I have to worry about myself and my child,” Harris said. “There’s that fine line: was it a protest, or was it a march?”

Judging by the reactions of Skyline students, the protests did not make a significant impact. Many did not know that there were protests at all.

“I think it could have been more organized,” Andrew Dionko, an Allied Healths major, said.

Another student, Mojamito Libuna, applauded the protests.

“It really hits home to all the people that use BART,” Libuna said.

Wilson remains hopeful that the movement will gain traction in other ways.

“All lives matter, everybody’s life matters,” Harris said. “If you’re going to shut down BART, then shut it down for a long time. We need to come at it with a more strategic plan of how to be successful, so they can understand we’re not gonna back down.”