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At Idaho MLK Celebration, Focus Remains on Civil Rights Legend's Legacy


When Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his "I Have a Dream" speech in the nation's capital, more than a half a century ago, it came at a time when people of color faced segregation, threats to human rights and violence. On Jan. 21, 2019, hundreds of attendees of an MLK Day celebration, hundreds of people, many of them students, listened to Francisco Salinas reading an acrostic poem that extended King's message to all people.

"Each of us plays a vital role," said Sanilnas, Boise State University's director of student diversity and inclusion, "And all of us are necessary."

  • Harrison Berry
If there was a theme to the Martin Luther King Jr. "Day of Greatness" event at the Idaho Statehouse, it was the continuing relevance of the slain civil rights leader's message, as it has come to encompass the struggles of people of color, the LGBTQ community, the differently abled and disabled, and many more. For many of those standing on the steps of the Capitol, the journey has been personal.

"As a woman of color, everything [King] tried to do got me where I am today," said Destiny Long, who studies social work at Boise State. "It's amazing to see people in the community fighting for the same rights today."

Dehra MacFaddan, standing nearby, said the current, charged political atmosphere has not changed her university's commitment to being a safe place where anyone can learn.

"There comes a point where [MLK Day] can become political, but Boise State is focusing on being inclusive," she said.

- Gov. Brad Little reads the annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day proclamation. -  - HARRISON BERRY
  • Harrison Berry
  • Gov. Brad Little reads the annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day proclamation.
From the podium, student speakers at the outdoor event, organized by Boise State, spoke about the ongoing struggles to achieve King's vision, with Esperansa Gomez, Boise State vice president of inclusive excellence, telling the crowd that she turned anger at injustice into a personal call to action.

"I got here because I'm mad as hell at how people are being treated every day," she said. "If I don't do something about it, who will?"

There have been losses along the way to achieving King's vision, including King himself, said Dominic, a sophomore from Capital High School in Boise, adding that "We have to honor that." As an African American living in Boise, he said the color of his skin set him apart as a child.

"People should be judged by their character, because that's what matters," he said.

- Palina Louangketh of the Idaho Museum of International Diaspora. -  - HARRISON BERRY
  • Harrison Berry
  • Palina Louangketh of the Idaho Museum of International Diaspora.
Inside the Capitol, Mariachi De Mi Tierra performed some music followed by newly sworn-in Idaho Gov. Brad Little reading his own MLK Day proclamation (in year's past, Little, who was then Lieutenant Governor, would be dispatched by then Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter to read Otter's proclamations).

But it was Palina Louangketh, once a Laotian refugee and now a doctoral candidate at Boise State, stole the show Monday with her own story of fleeing her home country, first seeking safety in refugee camps in Thailand and the Philippines, and, ultimately finding a home in Boise.

That long journey inspired Louangketch to found what will be the Idaho Museum of International Diaspora, a place where people can reflect on the long, and often difficult and dangerous, journeys that brought many to the City of Trees. Though the museum is as-yet unbuilt, she said at every turn, she has seen King's words and life's mission woven into her work.

"We come from multiple backgrounds, multiple races, but we are all here together," she said.