The gathering in downtown Palo Alto's King Plaza will take place just two weeks after a celebration of the 50th anniversary of the civil-rights leader's "I Have a Dream" speech, which exhorted the nation to join hands and erase racial discrimination.
Organizers said they hope the picnic will be a launching point for greater understanding and friendship among the city's diverse residents. The free event will include a light dinner, speeches, children's activities and music and is open to all, said organizer Samina Sundas, a member of the Santa Clara County Human Relations Commission. Claude Ezran, who serves on the Palo Alto Human Relations Commission, and others will speak.
The picnic is sponsored by the American Muslim Voice Foundation, the City of Palo Alto Human Relations Commission and Santa Clara County Supervisor Dave Cortese.
The event is part of a project spearheaded by Sundas called "From Fear to Friendship," which has brought together disparate groups at Sundas' Palo Alto home to share dinner and conversation. The Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks sparked in Sundas a deep desire to mend religious and cultural differences, she said.
"If we really, really get to know each other and build relationships, we can do something," she said.
Palo Alto and Silicon Valley have grown exponentially since Sundas first moved here in 1982, but civility has not kept pace, she said.
"I have seen the world change not for the better but for the worse. We are less courteous," she said. "Social media will never replace human contact. People go online and 'friend' each other. Those are not your friends. When you are in trouble — when you are in need — they cannot reach out to help you."
In prior years, the event was held in San Jose and was sponsored by the Santa Clara County Human Relations Commission and Cortese. But this year, the Palo Alto commission wanted to collaborate more with the county to promote awareness, understanding and the resolution of conflicts, discrimination or injustice, said Jill O'Nan, Palo Alto's Human Relations Commission chair.
"We don't want to be in a society where we are all afraid of each other," she said.
The timing of the picnic with the King anniversary is also relevant, she said.
"This is a society founded on racism and slavery. We need to not forget our roots and devolve into racism and fear of each other. Dr. King, of course, focused on equality for African Americans. But his struggle is everybody's struggle. We still have racism and sexism and ageism and prejudice. All these things we need to remember. We do need to find these occasions to come together in celebration," she said.
The peace picnic will take place Wednesday, Sept. 11, from 5 to 7 p.m. at King Plaza, 250 Hamilton Ave. Twelve community groups, including the Asian Law Alliance, First United Methodist Church Palo Alto, the county's Office for Human Relations, and Multifaith Voices for Peace and Justice, are cosponsors.