Nelson Mandela, Yokuts and Mono Tribes statues announced at Fresno State’s annual Martin Luther King Jr. commemoration

During Fresno State’s annual commemoration of Martin Luther King Jr., Fresno State professor Sudarshan Kapoor announced that two new statues honoring Nelson Mandela and Native American tribes will be added to the Peace Garden within the next year.

This will be the fourth and fifth statue at the garden, joining King Jr., César Chávez, Mahatma Gandhi and Jane Addams. Mandela served as the first president of South Africa and led the civil rights movement to end apartheid.  

Kapoor told The Collegian this is one step closer to a more diverse campus. 

“I feel very strongly that this Peace Garden is a reflection of the diversity actually, this is our mission to celebrate diversity on this campus,” he said.

Fresno State Professor Emeritus of Social Work Sudarshan Kapoor announces a new Nelson Mandela statue installed in the Peace Garden as soon as next year. (Manuel Hernandez/The Collegian)

On Jan. 19, the Cross-Cultural and Gender Center (CCGC) and the African American Programs and Services hosted the event dedicated to King Jr. during the same week of MLK Day. The commemoration invited speakers and Fresno State community members to share their words honoring King Jr., ending with Kapoor decorating the statue with a ceremonial garland.

It was after the garland when Kapoor announced the additional statues to the Peace Garden. Fresno State President Saúl Jiménez-Sandoval, who was the first speaker of the event, said the addition is important to inspire students on campus. 

Fresno State President Saúl Jiménez-Sandoval wraps ceremonial garland around the Martin Luther King Jr. statue at the Peace Garden. (Manuel Hernandez/The Collegian)

“Seeing representation of civil rights leaders [and] world civil rights rulers in our Peace Garden, it really provides our students with a compass for the future,” Jiménez-Sandoval told The Collegian. 

In addition to Mandela’s statue, Kapoor plans to add another in honor of the Tachi Yokut Tribe, who are native to the San Joaquin Valley, and The Mono Tribe, who originate in central Sierra Nevada. 

The Yokuts have been battling for proper recognition throughout Fresno. After a two-year debate with Fresno County, the U.S. Board on Geographic Names voted to approve the renaming of the town Squaw Valley to Yokuts Valley, according to Fresnoland

The new statue will serve as a reminder to students of the land’s origins and pays respects to the Yokut people.

“I think we should respect their viewpoints and remove all these names, which unnecessarily perpetuate prejudice and stereotypes,” Kapoor said.

“We all respect each other’s heritage as a tradition. We may have some differences, [but] we have to learn how to live with our differences and celebrate the thing that we really all enjoy,” Kapoor added.

“I think we should respect their viewpoints and remove all these names, which unnecessarily perpetuate prejudice and stereotypes,” Kapoor said.

The commemoration began at noon as the audience clung to their jackets and sweaters in 47-degree weather. Kayla Collins, a Fresno State student majoring in theatre, opened the event with the Black National Anthem, settling warmth to the cold-ridden crowd.

Jiménez-Sandoval followed Collins to talk about how the civil rights movement affected his own life. He said being an immigrant from Mexico, he couldn’t have the opportunity to stay and succeed in the United States without the activism African Americans had to fight hundreds of years for.

“I’m here because of the legacy of African Americans,” Jiménez-Sandoval said.

Following the university president was Kent Willis, the newly appointed vice president of student affairs, and Rashanda Booker, the first diversity officer at Fresno State. They made their way to the podium to speak about Martin Luther King Jr. and to introduce themselves in their new positions.

Rashanda Booker is the first university diversity officer position at Fresno State. (Manuel Hernandez/The Collegian)

Marisa Williams and James Williams, student coordinators for CCGC, emceed the event.

For James Williams, this was his first event as a new student coordinator. He said he was nervous about facing a large crowd and national news media during a momentous event for the university. It was a “humbling experience” for him, he said.

He told The Collegian events like these are the reason he first joined CCGC.

“This job is so awesome and is to know more about my culture,” James Williams said.

This is Marisa Williams’ final semester as a student coordinator; she’ll be graduating this spring. 

Upon presenting the next speakers, she momentarily stood in front of the podium and talked about how prideful she was to honor King Jr.’s legacy and to see a diverse set of speakers representing the Fresno State community, with tears of joy filling her eyes. 

David Sandles, the Southern California regional director for CalStateTEACH, recited a poem for the crowd to thank Martin Luther King Jr.’s fight for racial justice and efforts in creating unity in diversity and freedom.

Kapoor, a philosophy professor and significant community figure in promoting peace, invited the crowd to recite a pledge against hate, with all of them chanting, “hate has no place in my heart, in my spirit.” 

“Martin Luther King, he is my hero,” Kapoor said. 

In 1959, when King Jr. and his wife, Corretta Scott, had visited India, Kapoor said he was there to listen to him speak. 

Kapoor is also the founder of the Peace Garden and helped spearhead the installation of all the statues. Starting in 1990, the garden began with the statue of Gandhi, with King Jr’s being added later on.

Thirty years later, Kapoor is still adding new statues and still honoring King Jr.’s legacy.

“He is a champion of peace, love, and righteousness,” said Kapoor during the commemoration.

Marisa Williams (left) and James Williams (right), student coordinators for the Cross-Cultural and Gender Center, emcee the Martin Luther King Jr. commemoration. (Manuel Hernandez/The Collegian)
David Sandles, one of the speaks of the event, recites a poem in honor of Martin Luther King Jr. (Manuel Hernandez/The Collegian)
This is James Williams’ (center) first event as a CCGC student coordinator. (Manuel Hernandez/The Collegian)
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