Speakers at Spokane’s annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day celebration Monday thanked God for the slain civil rights leader, whose work they credited with paving the way for Barack Obama’s rise to the presidency.
“Dr. King walked so Obama could run, and Obama ran so our children could fly,” Spokane County Commissioner Bonnie Mager said to cheers from a crowd of more than 1,700 gathered at the INB Performing Arts Center.
“This year, the planets lined up for the United States of America. Despite the fact that we’re in the midst of crisis and uncertainty, we came together with a hope for our future.”
Inside the INB atrium, people leaned over the balcony, filled the carpeted staircase and overflowed into the breezeway outside on Monday’s 23rd anniversary of the holiday.
When the crowd took to the streets to march to River Park Square, children carried signs celebrating both King and Obama, whose inauguration is today.
“MLK Today Obama Tomorrow,” read a sign carried by one boy. The other side read: “We are witness to history.”
Another child’s poster simply read: “Dream BIG.”
Adell Whitehead, a 45-year-old descendant of slaves, said that a black man’s election as president is a “dream come true,” but that she didn’t want to get her hopes up too high – Obama is only one man, after all. Still, Whitehead said, “It is very special for people of any color.”
Inclusiveness was a theme of the day. Freda Gandy, interim director of Spokane’s Martin Luther King Center, said King went to jail 29 times “so we can all stand here today.
“Today is not just a day for African-American people, but for all people,” Gandy said. “We are all part of the great dream Martin Luther King had for America.”
Ivan Bush, co-chairman of the planning committee for the celebration, said Spokane has come a long way since its first march in 1980 when a much smaller group walked from “the jailhouse to the courthouse and carried butcher-paper signs.”
“Now I look around. This is humbling. Look at us,” he said, scanning the audience, its members young and old and of many races. “Not just black. Not just white. Not just Native. Not just Asian. Not just Latino. Look at us. We have a lot to be proud of.”
“Thank God for the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.,” Bush said. “As a nation, we’ve come a mighty long way. As a community, we’ve come a mighty long way.”
David BrownEagle, of the Spokane Tribe, said that when he was 8, he walked with his grandmother along the city’s streets and she was mocked by three youths for her traditional attire. He wanted to fight back, but his grandmother just smiled and continued walking.
She looked at him and said: “I know who I am.”
BrownEagle said his grandmother could have taught him a lesson of hatred that day.
“There’s always a connection,” BrownEagle said. “If you want to be hated, be hateful. If you want to be loved, be loving.” Looking out at the crowd, he said that sentiment is growing.
“We see one another and we stand with one another.”