Valley set to celebrate MLK Day

Outside a performance of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival play "American Nights" last summer, Claudia Alick began talking to a stranger.

That wasn't unusual for Alick — an effervescent producer at OSF who also runs the festival's popular Green Show — but what was curious was that the stranger just happened to precisely fit the bill of a guest speaker she was trying to find for Ashland's annual Martin Luther King Jr. celebration.

"Here was this person just seeing a play and he turned out to be an amazing civil rights leader," she said. "I was glad I'm the kind of person who talks to strangers."

Alick hired social-justice leader Magdaleno Rose-Avila to deliver the keynote address at the 23rd annual event, to be held from noon to 1:30 p.m. Monday at the Historic Ashland Armory, 208 Oak St.

The all-ages event is free, but people are encouraged to bring a nonperishable food item to donate to ACCESS food banks.

"This event is important because it's a way, as a community, to just to say out loud and in a public way, 'We agree that there's diversity in our community and we respect that,' " Alick said. "We're not just going to live with it — we love it."

Rose-Avila, executive director of the Social Justice Fund in Seattle, was born to immigrant parents and spent his youth working as a migrant laborer, starting as an onion harvester in Colorado at age 11.

In early adulthood, Rose Avila began organizing workers and became a lead organizer and spokesman for the Cesar Chavez's United Farm Workers Union in Colorado. He served as a leader in the Chicano movement in the '60s and '70s, Alick said.

Since then, Rose-Avila has served as a United States Peace Corps country director in Nicaragua, Guatemala, Paraguay and Micronesia; taught theatre and sociology at the University of Colorado; worked as the western director for Amnesty International's Campaign to Abolish the Death Penalty; and served as the inaugural executive director for the Cesar E. Chavez Foundation.

"He's eloquent, he's a poet and this is what he does — he travels around the country speaking about civil rights," Alick said.

Rose-Avila will also read from and sign copies of his book, "Looking For My Wings," at 7 p.m. Monday at Bloomsbury Books.

Monday's celebration, an observance of the slain civil rights leader's birthday, will also feature performances by David and Gabe Young, Liquid Fire Mantra, Natalie Tyler and students from Ashland School District and Southern Oregon University. The Mariachi trio Las Colibri, which will be featured in OSF's upcoming production of "Measure for Measure," will also perform.

Southern Oregon University communication professor D.L. Richardson will emcee the event.

Following the event, the Lotus Rising Teen Theater will lead a march to the plaza, where King's "I Have a Dream" speech will be played in its entirety.

The theme of this year's celebration is Civil Rights and Civil Discourse, which is intended to emphasize the interconnectedness of Southern Oregon residents, Alick said.

"This is about communication," she said. "Can we talk to each other? As a community can we say just once a year, 'We agree not to hate each other?' "

She selected a quote from King's "Letter from Birmingham Jail," to explain the theme.

"We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality," the quote reads.

The event is produced by volunteers and sponsored by the Ashland School District, OSF, city of Ashland, Jefferson Public Radio, Ashland TV and SOU. More than 100 volunteers are helping with the event, Alick said.

As in past years, the Armory is expected to reach its 800-person capacity. The doors will open at 11:30 a.m.

To accommodate overflow crowds, for the first time this year, a live-streaming simulcast of the event and a live performance by the Peace Choir will be held at CultureWorks, 310 Oak St.

The event will also be broadcast live online at www.ashlandhome.us.

The Multicultural Association of Southern Oregon is hosting another Martin Luther King Jr. event from 2 to 4 p.m. Sunday at the Central Medford High School Auditorium, 815 S. Oakdale Ave. The ninth annual event will feature performances by the Japanese Tea Dancers, Ballet Folklirico Ritmo Alegre, Culture Team, Michelle Bellamy, Kent Heyward and Kids Unlimited Project Life.

The event is free but non-perishable food donations will be accepted for ACCESS food banks.

The Ashland and Medford organizers are working together to create the back-to-back celebrations.

"The Rogue Valley is incredibly diverse — you've got poor people, rich people, young people, old people, women, men, artists, farmers and day laborers, and a really large Latino population," she said. "Our challenge as a community is to embrace our diversity and work with it, and not against it."

Contact reporter Hannah Guzik at 541-708-1158 or hguzik@dailytidings.com.

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