Every year the MLK Seattle Celebration Committee — comprising grassroots, labor, business, minority and progressive community organizations and volunteers — comes together to organize the city’s tribute to the legacy of Dr. King: the Martin Luther King Jr. Day Annual Rally and March.
Seattle has one of the largest annual MLK celebrations in the United States. Thousands of people turn out for a day of events that include workshops, rallies, multiple speakers, musical performances and a march from Garfield High School, where Dr. King spoke in 1961, to the Federal Courthouse Building.
I have wanted to join this march with my son since he was born a half decade ago and a friend proudly told me she’d done so with her infant in a carrier. I remember being so impressed by her commitment to justice and movement to action despite the challenges of new parenthood. But because of physical challenges at the time it wasn’t possible for me to do the same and it continued to be impossible for a while. Until now. After waiting many years, yesterday my partner, 5-year-old son and I finally participated in Seattle’s MLK Day Rally and March for the first time.
This year’s theme, “Fight for Your Rights in 2015,” centered on solidarity with national demonstrations against ongoing police brutality and systemic racism in the U.S. Protests of police abuse have escalated in recent years since the acquittal of George Zimmerman and non-indictment of officer Darren Wilson in the shootings of two unarmed black youth, Trayvon Martin in Florida and Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. Under the common slogan/hashtag, “Black Lives Matter,” demands for racial justice in America have garnered much attention and support not only across the states but around the world.
Yesterday's celebration began at 9 a.m. with powerful workshops such as “Equal Protection Under Law: Police Shootings, How to Reduce Them,” “Education 101: the LAW and YOU, your rights as a YOUTH!,” and “Black Family LIVES Matter!” Immediately following there was a rally in the Garfield High School gymnasium featuring keynote speaker Jelani Brown, activist and Ferguson-based organizer, who spoke at length about institutional racism and its impacts on the African American community.
The march began gathering outside at 11:15 a.m., the time we arrived. Rounding the corner of the school’s historic building a beautiful site unraveled before us: hundreds, maybe thousands, of Seattlelites waiting in Garfield High School’s north parking lot. My 5-year-old was enthused by the large crowd, the sounds, the sites and everything going on. Impressed, he proclaimed, “I bet there’s more than 100 people here!”
On schedule the marchers began moving across 23rd Avenue and down Jefferson Street around noon. We ran into many amazing friends, including members of new Seattle nonprofit Families of Color Seattle, the founders of Union Cultural Center, the director of Central Branch Preschool, which was established during the Civil Rights Movement, and the director of intercultural affairs at Bush School. There were all types of people of different occupations, faiths, ages, races and abilities.
My son became particularly enraptured by a group of American Indians who were singing and dancing. Supporters held signs printed with messages like, “Fight For Your Rights,” and, “Black Lives Matter.” Demands were chanted loudly, “Whose lives matter?” “Black lives matter!” “What do we want?” “Justice!” “When do we want it?” “Now!” It was exhilarating.
The almost two-hour-long march stretched for blocks at its height. It made several stops along the way to hear speakers at the Youth Detention Center, County Jail, police headquarters and Yesler Terrace. It ended in another rally outside the Federal Courthouse building at approximately 1:30 p.m.
My family turned around to go home after an hour — about the most we could imagine given that the three of us were recovering from various illnesses and long workweeks. I also saw many other families with children heading back to their cars. But what meant the most to me was not how far we went, but that we were there and we gave what we could. That felt triumphant. I was happily washed in the important spirit of the movement knowing we were part of it too.
And I look forward very much to going again and (maybe) going further next year.
If you go next year ...
Seattle's Martin Luther KIng Jr. Day Celebration and March happens every year and is one of the country's biggest MLK Day celebrations. Bookmark mlkseattle.org to check for details in 2016.