Reflecting on the Education and Diversity of the Annual MLK March and Rally

by Georgia S. McDade

It was great to be at Garfield High School for the 37th Annual MLK Day Rally and March January 21. Thousands of people were present for the half a day of activities around the theme “Affirmative Action = Justice: Equal Opportunity in Education, Jobs, Contracts.”

A three-hour Opportunity Fair began at 8:30 a.m. Representatives from many civic, private, and public organizations were on hand. Around the Garfield High School plaza, inside the gymnasium lobby, and near the steps, company representatives invited guests to listen to their spiels. Informational literature covered many tables. Volunteers were seeking persons willing to support numerous organizations and causes. Persons asked attendees to sign petitions for assisting immigrants, ending the federal government shutdown, supporting the unpaid TSA workers, and rescinding Initiative 200 and replacing it with Initiative 1000, reversing a 20-year ban on affirmative action in Washington.

Signs, posters, and T-shirts displayed familiar words: quotes from Dr. King, Nelson Mandela. and Malcolm X; End Homelessness; No New Youth Jails; Reproductive Rights; No War; Black Lives Matter; Black by Popular Demand; Income Equity; Fair Wages; Black Is Not Illegal, Jesus Is (above an electric cord needing a source of energy); I Am My Ancestors’ Wildest Dream; and the names of universities, sororities and fraternities. One shirt read, “No Sexism, No Racism, No Ableism, No Homophobia, No Fatphobia, No Transphobia, No Hatefulness.” “I’m Black Mixed with Black” said another.

Veterans of the Million Man March were there wearing their souvenir shirts, “Justice or Else” and “Stop the Killing.” A hoodie asked, “Why be racist, sexist, homophobic, or transphobic when you could just be quiet?” Alaska Airlines staff wore shirts saying “Unite, History, Empower, Inspire, Perseverance, Equality, Dream,” “Shirts that can be worn on any occasion,” said the young employee.

Staff and presenters of the event received black T-shirts bearing a well-known Dr. King quote: “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere” above “#United4MLKDay” in a smaller font.

Although organizers did not accept every proposal for a workshop, the issues that were covered teach a thinker much: diversity, hatred, bullying, racial justice, voting, equity, economics, immigration, homelessness, radio interviewing, unity, segregation, ethnic studies, Black Panthers, Social Security, Medicare, and Cuba were a few of the subjects.

Jaye Ware (organizer), Troy Osaki, Nakeya Isabel, CJ Dudley, Colin Corpe, and I presented a workshop titled “Affirmative Action = Justice: Can I Get a Witness?” Each of us poets read or recited poems reflecting how we have been and are witnesses. We discussed a multitude of subjects for a few minutes each: the definition of the term “affirmative action,” its necessity, American History, discrimination, privilege, unfairness, inequality, home, mixed race. I noticed after the presentation the differences among the presenters: one white man, one black man, one Filipino-Japanese man, three black women; all ages 20s to 70s. The quietness, stillness of the audience convinced me they were listening.

I believe Dr. King would have been as pleased with the remainder of the program as I think he would have been with the variety of workshops and presenters. Finding a seat on the bleachers for the 10:40 a.m. assembly was nearly impossible; people were standing along the walls; a great many were sitting on the floor.

Millions of people of all ages across the United States and some in other countries value Dr. King’s philosophy and practice it, commemorate his life, think his birthday is worth bringing children and grandchildren to services, take classes, hear speakers, organize. Millions march, attend parades, perform public service. Civil rights workers old and new, union members, Black Panthers, churches and pastors, ministers, schools and teachers, parents, children, grandparents, dancers, community organizers, and politicians were present in Seattle. Someone took the time to acknowledge we were on land belonging to the Duwamish nation — a nation the federal government refuses to acknowledge. Though each person or group may have had different reasons for being present, they were there. Diversity was more prevalent than normal.

I believe Dr. King would have applauded the work at Garfield, although we continue to make the same demands we were making more than half a century earlier. We want and demand equal opportunity in education, jobs, and contracts. Does everyone know Dr. King was assassinated while in Memphis to protest with garbage men who wanted living wages and a safe work environment? The wages of the sanitation workers did not support them and their families; their safety was ignored. Two employees had been crushed to death approximately a month before Dr. King arrived. He could easily have stayed in a more secure hotel, but he wanted to stay at the black-owned Lorraine Hotel where he usually stayed.

I’ll always regret Dr. King’s life ended early yet know James Earl Ray was not the only person who wanted him dead. White supremacists, white nationalists never went away, but they have not always been as visible as they are now. Their numbers are smaller but far from few. I’m wise enough to know that more people need to take more workshops and hear more speakers, but most of all listeners need to be encouraged to integrate Dr. King’s teachings into their everyday lives.

As we left the gym, most to march from Garfield to Westlake Center, the song “Abraham, Martin, and John” was playing; I could not help wonder why “Blowin’ in the Wind” was not being broadcast.

Featured Image by Susan Fried