The crowd celebrating Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday Saturday at the United Domestic Workers Center in Santa Maria was asked one question: "Moving forward, are you up for the struggle?"
That was the theme of this year's event, hosted by the Santa Maria/Lompoc NAACP and United Domestic Workers.
It was definitely a bit more somber and urgent than last year's theme, which was "Let freedom ring! Choose nonviolence," said Lawanda Lyons-Pruitt, president of the local NAACP chapter.
"The current political climate and White House administration are trying to take us backward to the pre-Civil Rights era -- not just people of color, but also for the middle/lower classes, the less fortunate," she said.
"I definitely do feel like they're all under threat right now, so what we want to do today is empower our people, inspire them to work with us, because if we work together collectively, then we can change things. It can't just be one person changing the world; the change is up to all of us."
She added, "We stand on the shoulders of activists like Dr. King and others and it hurts to see how the advances they worked so hard for are all under imminent threat."
Saturday's celebration featured speakers Rev. Darrell Tullis, of the Santa Maria/Lompoc NAACP, Santa Maria City Councilwoman Etta Waterfield, representatives from the offices of Rep. Salud Carbajal and Assemblyman Jordan Cunningham and music from Lito Hernandez and the Endowment for Youth Jazz/Gospel Fusion Academy.
Tullis reminded the celebrants that the nation must come together to continue having conversations that fight for not just certain demographics, but all demographics. He also noted that marginalized groups of people are marginalized for a reason; that there are certain groups out there who want to unite with hate and violence, rather than fight against it.
"Until we can put the alt-right movement, Nazis and Ku Klux Klan, along with ISIS, on the terrorist watch, we're not ready [as a nation]," Tullis said. "We have to keep having conversations. We have to plant that seed and water it as often as we can until we grow a tree of unity that says you cannot harm my brothers and sisters.
"I don't care what gender, nationality, race whatever you are -- you cannot hurt anyone," he added. "If you're willing to hurt people, you are a terrorist."
Yesenia Decasaus, regional coordinator for the United Domestic Workers, noted that the annual Martin Luther King Jr. event is a vital tradition to keep, as his message to fight for justice is one the organization strives to embody every single day.
"We feel so close to his message on a personal level," she said. "It's an honor to not just host this event with the NAACP, but to remember what he stood for."
Lompoc High School junior Isaiah Sanchez attended not only to support his friend, who was performing with the Endowment for Youth Committee’s Jazz Gospel Fusion Academy, but to celebrate an important part of history that should never be forgotten.
"Martin Luther King Jr. Day, for me, marks the time for equality for everyone, especially nowadays when there's so much hate that's being spread around," Sanchez said. "We should never feel excluded. Dr. King was someone who put their foot down and said that inequality is wrong, and we have to do something about it."
He added, "To me, that's something I want to keep fighting for as well. It's important to be aware of history and staying in the shadows and keeping quiet is wrong. We have to stand together."