Current Students

Johannes: The legacy of human rights leaders

NWCCI students from Whatcom celebrating Martin Luther King Day.

Johannes Malebana, a business major from South Africa studying at Whatcom Community College, shares his first experience celebrating the life and dream of Dr. Martin Luther King. 
It gives me goosebumps to know that the legacy of our human rights leaders and activists still lives on. I had the opportunity to attend the 15th Annual Martin Luther King, Jr. Human Rights conference on Saturday, January 19th. The conference was put on by the Whatcom Human Right s Task Force at Whatcom Community College in Bellingham. It like nothing I have seen before. In South Africa, we also have such icons that we celebrate. Our struggle heroes like Nelson Mandela, Walter Sisulu, Steve Biko Hector Peterson and other undocumented leaders had a clear vision of what the world could be. You can say that they were prophets; I say that they stood for what they believed in. I had the opportunity to meet Francisco Rios, a well-known figure in the field of multi-cultural education and the dean for the Woodring College of Education at Western Washington University. He was the guest speaker and got a standing ovation for his wise words.  He spoke about what equality, poverty and human rights meant back in the times of Martin Luther King Junior and what it means now. I waited until he was done talking to all the important people in suits and iIpads in their hands so I could properly introduce myself. We spoke for a while and he said when I get back home I should implement all the rights things I learned here.

When you come to an event like this you don’t just take, you must also give a part of yourselves and hope that it will have an impact on one or maybe two people that didn’t even want to be at the conference in the first place. I recited a poem that I wrote a while back. The poem was about the change that people like Martin Luther King Jr. knew was possible and like any other poem that I wrote, it moved people. I will live to remember this day because a lady came up to me said I make her want to live the dream she had of becoming a musician.

NWCCI students volunteering at Blaine Boys & Girls Club.

NWCCI students volunteering at Blaine Boys & Girls Club.

On the actual day of the holiday, we gathered at Bellingham High School for a poverty action march sponsored by Whatcom Volunteer Center. Rosalinda Guillen was the featured speaker. She is the Director of Community to Community Development,  a non-profit organization here in Bellingham. The march stopped in front of the Federal Building where local singers Robert Sarazin Blake and Mike Marker sang along with the crowd.

We ended the day by getting our hands colorful while painting the Blaine Boys and Girls Club. We painted the entire bathrooms with other Whatcom students who decided to take it upon themselves to do something on this important day.

The following is the poem that I read at the 15th Annual Martin Luther King, Jr. Human Rights conference:

Johannes reading a poem he wrote in honor of Martin Luther King Day.

Johannes reading a poem he wrote in honor of Martin Luther King Day.

The unspoken passion 

The real truth about people is not hidden between the metaphors and the language they speak, not in the tongue because the  tongues is fluent in only two languages; half-truth and the other half we don’t even have to label because we continuously remove it from its element with every dialogue we  have

The greatest aspect of human beings is in the heart, for it pumps enough blood to all of the body’s seventy five trillion cells and it can continue to beat even when separated from the body

I know this from the days I woke up at dawn just to see the sun rise and quickly disappear into pregnant clouds that gave birth to a heavy rain that found me wondering between the down town bus station and the grocery store that opened 24 hours even on rainy days just to serve the homeless lady who is the past 28 years has never missed the number 24 bus that takes her straight to heaven where she finds happiness.

The only time when she puts a smile on her face is when she steps out of the store and on to the paved pavements that gently took down the last bit of the rain like the shaking hands of a mother who just gave birth

And she spends the next 45 minutes walking straight into puddles and singing a love song in five different languages that she made up herself

Not forgetting the confused seventeen year old whose skin was not the same colour as her tongue, she had a native tongue and a Hispanic appearance,

you will always find her on her knees, when she is not looking for the millions of pieces her heart broke into, she is praying to drown from the tears in her eyes but instead she is drowning in a pool of temptations, the harsh language spoken by the kids in her school was poisonous and as stealthy as the footsteps of warriors on the land of their enemy

The only person who could understand her was the blind man who knew all the corners and secrets of the city like the cane he held in his hand as he wove through traffic lights and public benches with eyes hidden behind the thick lenses of the spectacles that hung on his nose, he kept blinking like he could casually see, eye lashes dancing like wings off an angel’s back after a mantra of songs when we forced our way through the gates of heaven, I knew I didn’t know what passion was when I saw him blink and I didn’t know what passion was until I saw a blind man dance, his cane moon-walked on the cracked pavements, his left foot in front of his right, his right in front of his left.

He kept that motion like a poem of metaphors with no hesitation or doubt in his mind. He spoke to the subways and the subway spoke to him.

Just like the seventeen year old and the homeless woman, he had one wish

He wished that we could all go blind for a minute when we met him, he believed that if we didn’t see him, what he looked like, maybe we’d use our hearts to determine the kind of person he was. 

One thought on “Johannes: The legacy of human rights leaders

  1. Johannes-Very thoughtful blog. I really like what you said about giving and not just taking-that is the true spirit of MLK Day. If we all just give a little bit, it can make a big impact. Iris

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