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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Marchers in Spokane honor Martin Luther King Jr. – and demand change

Arlondra Ribera participates in the Martin Luther King Jr. Day Unity March in Spokane on Monday, Jan. 20, 2020. The march was preceded by a rally and followed by a resource fair and day of service. (Libby Kamrowski / The Spokesman-Review)

Several thousand people took part in a rally and march Monday morning in Spokane to honor the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. and remind the community that the fight for civil rights is far from over.

“We are here today because we believe in the right things. We believe in equality, we believe in unity and we believe in this community,” Mayor Nadine Woodward said in a speech in a packed ballroom at the Spokane Convention Center.

“We know, here in our city, that we are not immune to racism or bigotry, and we must continue to stress that our community will not tolerate division,” Woodward said.

Other speakers included Freda Gandy, director of the Martin Luther King Jr. Family Outreach Center in the East Central Neighborhood, which is celebrating a major expansion as well as its 50th anniversary this year.

Gandy thanked MLK Center staff and volunteers who last year distributed 800 backpacks for schoolchildren, 1,300 winter coats and more than 600,000 pounds of food from the center’s food bank.

“2019 was a very impactful year for us,” Gandy said. “We were able to expand services, hire more people and just have the biggest impact that we could in this community.”

Saron Zemedkun, a Ferris High School student who is president of the school’s Black Student Union, read an original essay that traced the mistreatment of black Americans from the Jim Crow South to the many recent high-profile police shootings of unarmed black people.

“As a young black woman, I am troubled by the America that I am seeing,” said Zemedkun, a naturalized U.S. citizen born in Ethiopia.

“I have seen many African Americans being dragged into the depths of deprivation and despair by the wrong image and labels placed upon us by mainstream society,” she said. “It’s obvious that black Americans have to work twice as hard to get half as far as their white colleagues would – oppressed by the intersecting forces of colorism and systematic racism as it pertains to status and equity.”

Kiantha Duncan, a board member of the Spokane NAACP, told the crowd the civil rights movement shouldn’t be viewed as pitting two sides against each other.

“The fight for equality is not a sport,” Duncan said, calling for a collaborative effort to achieve equity and inclusion. “We all have to be on the court at the same time.”

After some musical performances, the Rev. Happy Watkins stood at the lectern and delivered a powerful recital of King’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech. Watkins, 77, memorized the speech in 1986 and has recited it every year for more than three decades.

“So let freedom ring from the prodigious hilltops of New Hampshire. Let freedom ring from the mighty mountains of New York,” Watkins said, hewing closely to the speech as King delivered it during the March on Washington in 1963.

Watkins added only one line of his own, reminding his audience of today’s divisive political climate: “Let freedom ring from Trump’s tower in the Bronx.”

As Watkins spoke the final words – “Great God Almighty, we are free at last” – marchers young and old began streaming out of the convention center onto Spokane Falls Boulevard, many holding signs.

One of the marchers was Morgen Flowers-Washington, principal of Spokane International Academy, a K-8 charter school. She marched with her family and encouraged many of her students to participate as well.

“We teach our students about the fact that they can be advocates, even at 6 and 7 and 8 years old,” Flowers-Washington said. “So if there’s a cause that they have passion around, they can use their education, as well as their family and friends, to mobilize and create change in our community.”

Jesse Tinsley - The Spokesman-Review