A tumultuous year full of political division apparently helped boost attendance at Spokane’s annual celebration of Martin Luther King Jr.
More than 3,000 people made the trek Monday morning to the Spokane Convention Center for the rally and march. There, they heard rousing speeches from multiple community leaders.
Freda Gandy, executive director of the Martin Luther King Jr. Family Outreach Center and organizer of the event, began the day by remarking on the large turnout, about 600 more than last year.
“Oh my goodness,” she said. “If you could see my view from here. There’s so many of you.”
As she began, people were still filing into the large convention center room, which quickly hit capacity. A long line of people waited in the hallway, still able to hear the speeches, while others filed in from outside.
Kurtis Robinson, president of the Spokane chapter of the NAACP, lifted the crowd’s energy by contemplating what King would ask of him if he were in his situation. He also theorized what King would do now to bridge a deep political divide in the United States.
“He would say, ‘Let’s get to it,’ ” Robinson said. “Let’s stay focused. Don’t give up. Lean into each other … For God’s sake and for our all.”
Some in the room were hoisting signs protesting President Donald Trump and Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers. Children sat in the corners, lying on their sides or crossing their legs.
Many in the crowd were decked head-to-toe in clothing and signs supporting Lisa Brown, Democratic challenger to McMorris Rodgers in this year’s election. Her staunchest supporters sat in the front of the room and raised signs as the candidate took the podium.
Both candidates addressed the crowd, Brown first. Both candidates talked at length about King and his legacy.
McMorris Rodgers began and ended with messages of hope and love, including remarks on the Freeman High School shooting and her work in unifying both sides of the political spectrum. However, she did talk for the first time about Trump’s remarks about Haiti and other African nations.
During her speech, she was heckled and booed, but was able to finish uninterrupted.
Other speakers included Rev. Percy “Happy” Watkins, who recited a shortened version of King’s “I Have a Dream” speech from memory. The 75-year-old took the podium to much fanfare. During the speech, he changed one of King’s lines to include the president’s name.
“Let freedom ring from the top of Trump Tower in New York City,” he said.
The crowd also heard a personal essay written and delivered by Pride Prep freshman Jada Richardson, who also attends the Martin Luther King Jr. Outreach Center.
“I recently started to realize that it doesn’t matter what others identify you as, it’s how you identify yourself,” she said. “Right now, I’m on a journey of self discovery. I’m on a journey to discover myself.”
As the speeches came to a close, the sea of moving bodies spilled out onto Spokane Falls Boulevard, before turning right and walking two blocks south and onto Riverside Avenue. Many of the people were quiet as they moved through the streets, while some pounded on drums or chanted.
Twelve-year-old Chance Lalonde was walking with his mother and father. Holding a Lisa Brown sign, the Evergreen Middle School student said he was proud to be marching for the first time on King’s birthday and would do so in the future.
His mother, Angela, and father, Brian, agreed.
“Our biggest reason for coming was to show support for people of color,” Angela Lalonde said.
The march eventually turned north on Bernard Street before circling back toward the Convention Center. All in all, the march portion of the festivities lasted around 20 minutes.
Before stepping down from the podium, Whitworth University professor Stephy Nobles-Beans had a parting message. She asked the crowd to demand more from themselves and others. And as King did five decades ago, to look to the present – not the future – for change.
“Where do we go from here Spokane?” she asked. “Fifty years is too long. Let’s do this now.”
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