King’s influence remembered, celebrated |

King’s influence remembered, celebrated

In extending what Martin Luther King Jr. preached in the 1960s, a former football player turned meditation teacher pressed for peace during a time when the world needs it most.

Ram Smith, a yoga and meditation instructor at Ananda Village, Nev., spoke about King and what his message of peace means today. About 50 people were at the Seventh Annual Interfaith Service onSunday night at St. Theresa Catholic Church.

Unitarians can belong to a variety of religions but share the the common thread of practicing, celebrating and teaching social justice.

During his talk, Smith laced his own stories of growing up in Los Angeles during a turbulent time of nationwide racial unrest with speaking about the teachings of King, who was assassinated in 1968 for his attempts to make peace and end racial segregation.

“I’m amazed at the changes that took place after those times,” Smith said.

Smith spoke of watching the Watts riots without participating, his hurt when his black friend was jumped for talking to a white girl and being called the “N-word” after moving to Nevada in 1977.

He said he would approach those who threw racial epithets at him and attempt to heal hate with love and a smile.

“It’s amazing what a smile will do,” he said.

Smith’s smile makes his eyes narrow and eyebrows perk, while a gap between his front teeth adds more character to the expression.

After playing football and graduating from UC Berkeley, and trying to land a spot with the San Francisco 49ers, Smith began to visit the world and bring people together. He lived in Italy, broke bread with people in South Africa and met Coretta Scott King, the widow of Martin Luther King Jr., during a visit to King’s estate.

Smith said the nation is in a time of crisis and people need to reach out.

“We have a choice, all of us, to expand our heart’s love,” he said, hands resting on an upright guitar.

He gave a minor history lesson when recalling the story of Rosa Parks, the first black person to buck the rule of getting up for a white person when the bus became full. Parks case was picked up by the NAACP who took the matter all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, where justices ruled that Alabama’s segregation laws were unconstitutional.

The Unitarian fellowship sponsored the service to celebrate King, who flirted with becoming Unitarian, said Jay Newburgh, who calls herself a “worship assistant.”

Smith was invited by Steve Goldman, who decided to pick the yoga instructor over another candidate because of a picture.

“I could tell by his smile the type of person he is,” Goldman said.

After the closing song “This Little Light of Mine,” Smith lingered with audience members over tea and coffee in a small room. Newburgh stayed in the church to collect items from the service.

“I thought he was great,” Newburgh said of Smith. “He’s a very uplifting and inspirational man.”

— Contact William Ferchland at

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