South Coast Air Quality Management District, better known as SCAQMD hosted their 6th Annual Martin Luther King Jr. “Day of Service Forum,” with approximately 350 people in attendance at CAAM, on Saturday, January 19.    The event gathered a diverse community for the purpose of honoring Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and advocating for clean air for all people.

Fox 11 news reporter, Leah Uko hosted the gala-like event, that included heartfelt speeches, performances, and award presentations, all supporting the observance of Dr. King’s dream and SCAQMD’s mission that all people be informed about air quality and environmental health. “Today, we are here to honor Dr. Martin Luther King’s legacy and celebrate the progress we have made in improving air quality,” Uko said.

Students Scott, Chloe and Gabriella, from Fresh Start Charter School, lead attendees in the Pledge of Allegiance and performed a spirited and well-received excerpt of Dr. King’s, “I Have a Dream” speech.   The school brought close to 100 students to participate in learning about Dr. King Jr., as well as methods to ensure their environmental future.

“We first want to give honor to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who was one of our forefathers who stood years ago, so we would have the opportunity to stand up for any type of equality,” said Reverend Deborah Mann in her stirring evocation speech.   The Greg Jones Choir complemented Reverend Mann’s spiritual message with crowd moving gospel songs, including “Oh Happy Day.”

(l-r) Pamela Bakewell, Dr. William Burke, Dr. Clarke E. Parker, Sr., Dr. Clarke E. Parker, Sr., Herb Wesson, and Fabian Wesson, at the SCAQMD’s 6th Annual MLK Jr. Day of Service Forum, at CAAM. (E. Mesiyah McGinnis / LA Sentinel)


SCAQMD Governing Board member, Dr. Joseph Lyou, reminded Los Angeles Baby Boomers and Generation X attendees how dreadful air pollution was in the 70’s and 80’s, and to celebrate the progress made for cleaner air.  “It’s not too different from the struggle that Dr. King faced when he was fighting for equality; we are fighting for clean air.” he said.

SCAQMD screened their short film, “The Right to Breathe,” a project spearheaded by Chairman Dr. William Burke.  In the film, a transparent Burke speaks openly about his own health concerns from years of exposure to harmful air pollutants.

The video depicts a Los Angeles, when rigorous activity induced chest pains from the lung’s exposure to pollution, and a city constantly testing high for dangerous levels of air pollution.  The film includes testimonials from victims who suffered from life-threatening exposure from cancerous poisons in the air, due to fracking and other pollutants exposed to minority communities.

“The Right to Breathe” is a fight for equality in air pollution awareness, a celebration of the enormous progress made in reducing toxic levels today, and a desperate pledge in  making a cleaner world for future generations.

Dr. Clark E. Parker, Sr., SCAQMD vice chair of the Governing Board, shared his personal experiences with Dr. King Jr. and read excerpts from a copy of the letter Dr. King wrote while in a Birmingham Jail in 1963.  Dr. Parker said King’s jailing for advocacy and justice is a guiding principle in the organization’s pursuit of environmental justice.

“We all know that almost 72 percent of air pollution itself, comes from areas that are socially and economically disadvantaged, that is occupied by people of color, especially African Americans and Latinos, which is something SCAQMD is trying to mitigate,” Dr. Parker said.   He expressed optimism in current and future bills passed that allow the organization to not only report problems, but help fix them.

Dr. Parker presented L.A. City Council President Herb Wesson with the Environmental Justice for All Award, for creating programs such as Recycle L.A. and for Wesson’s commitment to improving air quality, being a protector of justice, and for his life of public service.

In Wesson’s fiery acceptance speech, he recognized his wife, Fabian Wesson, the SCAQMD Governing Board, and thanked his political mentor, Dr. Yvonne Brathwaite Burke, for her political guidance and inspiration.  Wesson mentioned how inspired he was in 1968, in witnessing Dr. King’s adoration for then Assemblywoman Burke, when King visiting California.  “Dr. King would be killed three weeks later,” Wesson said to the hushed listeners.

“On behalf of my wife and family, I am honored to accept this award today,“  he said.   Supporters acknowledged Wesson, applauding the speech of people’s City Council president.  “Happy King Day!  We have a lot of work to do.  Let us come together and get it done.”

Dr. Parker introduced the keynote speaker, California Senator Steven Bradford, representing District 35.  Senator Bradford recognized Dr. King and the tremendous strides in justice and equality made in America, but challenged the audience to continue to fight.  “Dr. King, a man as your theme says, ‘paved the way for American justice,’ Dr. King spent his life paving the way for social and economic justice, racial justice, and fair housing,” Bradford said.

“The dream lives on; the goals and objectives that Dr. King fought for live on.  We have an obligation to hold true to those principles.”

Senator Bradford and Fox reporter Uko were awarded certificates of appreciation for their commitment and participation in the forum.

The Sentinel caught up with Senator Bradford, who shared his thoughts on the Day of Service forum.  According to Senator Bradford,  unknown to many minorities, pollutants are harmful are in low-income minority communities and far too often, those people are not aware of the resources through SCAQMD.   Bradford expressed his gratitude for the event but wasn’t content.  “It was a fitting tribute but a clearing call that we still have work to do when it comes to environmental justice,” the California senator said.

In the “Right to Breathe” film, Burke shares his view on aiming for a healthier air environment in minority neighborhoods. “It’s just a horrific balancing act and we continue to try and work on it,” he said, suggesting the need for more bills to be passed and more recourses allotted toward clean air equality for all people.  “I know that the economy has to be considered and I know you gotta put people before the economy.”