Nearly a thousand people filled the Spokane Convention Center on Monday morning for the annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day march downtown. The marching distance was shorter than other years, but the crowd was still full of enthusiasm.
The Martin Luther King Jr. Family Outreach Center launched its fundraising campaign for a new facility right before the march, thanking Spokane Mayor David Condon for his personal donation of $10,000 and challenging the crowd to match it.
NAACP President Naima Quarles-Burnley reminded the crowd it was the 30th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr. Day becoming a federal holiday.
Quarles-Burnley said important work is being done to help minorities have better graduation rates and less frequent contacts with police.
“We still have much work to do,” Quarles-Burnley said. “We shall overcome by working, not by dreaming.”
Kyiesha Tensley, a 17-year-old student at Lewis and Clark High School, gathered 15 friends to walk in the march together with Spokane Police Department officers as part of the Youth and Police Initiative.
“Being in the march is big,” Tensley said. She’s African-American and said her grandmother told her about African-American history, and that the story of Rosa Parks – who refused to move to the back of a bus so a white passenger could take her seat – resonated with her.
“This is part protest and part honoring history,” Tensley said.
The Youth and Police Initiative is a program that seeks to bring together at-risk youth and police officers so they have a chance to get to know each other.
“We try to get closer to the officers and not be scared of them,” Tensley said. As a young girl, she watched a police officer pull her mother by the hair down a set of stairs, she said. “It’s easy to get scared then,” Tensley said.
Spokane police Officer Jennifer DeRuwe said the program aims to end generational distrust and dislike of police.
“If we can get to know the kids before something happens, that’s great,” DeRuwe said. “It speaks volumes to us that the kids want to march with us.”
Jaquill Fox, a 15-year-old student at Lewis and Clark High School, also was part of the youth initiative group. Fox, who recently moved to Spokane from North Carolina, was marching with his family.
“It’s about celebrating the community and honoring history,” Fox said.
The program ended with the Rev. Happy Watkins delivering his interpretation of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech.
A longtime Spokane favorite, Watkins’ delivery was especially passionate this year and the crowd responded with cheers and applause before heading out on a short march around the block.
Subscribe to the Morning Review newsletter
Get the day’s top headlines delivered to your inbox every morning by subscribing to our newsletter.