by Sharayah Lane
Approximately one hundred people gathered on Monday at Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Park to celebrate the 54th anniversary of Dr. King’s infamous “I Have a Dream” speech. It was a hot afternoon and, despite the unnecessary gaggle of SPD officers lingering in the parking lot across the hillside, everyone seemed to be in good spirits.
The event opened with a welcome and prayer from local minister and civil rights leader Rev. Samuel B. McKinney. “Take somebody by the hand,” he said as he led the group to repeat together, “You can’t get anywhere without me. And I’m not going anywhere without you. But together, we will make a difference.” McKinney was a friend and classmate of Dr. King and was behind Dr. King’s only visit to Seattle in 1961.
But taking a second look out into the community there was a clear missing piece: young people. The event’s attendance was comprised of predominantly older folks representing a slew of local black organizations. It was a far cry from a Black Lives Matter rally and various speakers throughout the event touched on the lack of young people.
“We’re tired of the same old people saying the same old things y’all. It’s time for some new faces and some new blood and some new energy to move Seattle. We’re not going to move until we get these young folks engaged,” said NAACP President Gerald Hankerson, “we can talk all we want to right now about Martin Luther King but we don’t know where [young people] are right now in our community.”
As speaker after speaker addressed the troubling times we are in politically, it appeared to be a challenging task to balance honoring the legacy of Dr. King with the racial terror that has exploded in our country in recent years.
The embodiment of this complexity may have been most notable in one of the day’s opening speakers, Mayor Ed Murray. Despite running down a list of policies created under his term that have been directly aimed at supporting the black community, there remained an air of inauthenticity as he spoke about justice while refusing to resign amid allegations of sexual assault of a black teen in the 1980s.
As the program continued, King County Councilmember Larry Gossett spoke about the history of King County being the only county in the country to be named after Dr. Martin Luther King.
“In front of 2800 people inside the [Garfield High School] gym, and another 2099 outside the gym, Eddie Rye Jr. suggested a motion to start a movement to change the name of this county and to change the logo from an imperial king’s crown to an image of Dr. Martin Luther King,” said Gossett.
Gossett then presented longtime activist and event organizer Eddie Rye with a proclamation declaring him “a strong voice in the successful campaign to use an image of Martin Luther King as the official logo of King County,” and went on to congratulate him on 50 years of activism.
Angela Rye, best known for being a political commentator on CNN, was the final speaker of the day and kept it very short.
“What I have to point to is that this was a march for jobs and freedom and here we are today in 2017 still without jobs and freedom. We’ve said this over and over again and somehow we have failed to understand the important mission of how. When are we going to organize on our ‘how’?” asked Rye.
As the day came to a close, it proved to be a wonderful opportunity for local black organizations to come together and renew their commitment. It was a proud moment for recognition of local civil rights leaders. It was also a snapshot of the divide between the movements then and now, a glimpse into the changing climate of activism in which we currently reside.
The sun began to set as everyone slowly made their way home, to continue the work toward justice with the sometimes frustratingly elusive hope of Dr. Martin Luther King’s dream on their minds.