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Each generation has responsibility to carry on the dream

Seeing a “vision of heaven” in skin shades “from ebony to ivory” as one of the largest crowds ever joined in Spokane’s Martin Luther King Day celebration, rally and march Jan. 15 and 16, speakers challenged those gathered to fill the arena next year.

Rehoboth dancer at celebration

Well more than 1,000 and perhaps nearly 2,000 people streamed from the Opera House down Main St. to Riverpark Square.

Speeches and sermons remembering the legacies of King and Rosa Parks called people to leave a legacy for future generations.

King called America to live the creed that all people are created equal and guaranteed life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.  Rosa, secretary of her local chapter of the NAACP, catapulted him into leadership of the civil rights movement.

The Rev. Leotta Jarrett of Morning Star Baptist Church said that in family travels to visit recreation spots, family or historical monuments, someone always asks, “Are we there yet?”

“That question about King’s dream is a question to ask in churches, academia and communities and to hear answers from poor people who have been used, abused and misused,” she said. “We are still driving, and not there yet.  The answer lies in what we do together in our communities and nation,” Leotta said.

Children read "I Have a Dream" speech

Governor Christine Gregoire’s proclamation said that King’s words birthed a longing for equality:  “In the 38th year since his death, his vision of a united America still captivates hearts and minds.  A new generation needs to be reminded of the impact citizens can have on their communities, states and the nation.”

The Rev. Jerry Jones, president of the Ministers Fellowship Union, noted progress, because in previous decades African Americans were not welcome in the North side of town.  Now they gather at Holy Temple Church of God in Christ at 806 W. Indiana.

Children join in celebration and dance.

William Sweigert, Martin Luther King Jr. Family Outreach Center board president, affirmed the center’s commitment to improve lives of children and families.

“Human law is never the last word.  Justice is,” he said, inviting people to volunteer at the center.

Spokane Mayor Dennis Hession, inspired by Parks as the mother of the civil rights movement, called for people to break down social, economic and racial differences through service.

The Rev. C. B. Akins Sr. of First Baptist Church Bracktown in Lexington, Ky., observed, “This congregation looks like what I imagine heaven to be.  We need such gatherings more often.”

The Rev. C. B. Akins

“King dared to go against the grain and tell the truth even when it was not advantageous.  Good leaders focus on opportunities, not limitations,” he said.

While Akins sees King’s “freedom marathon” unfinished and obstacles remaining, he calls for “teaching the values and our progress to our youth who have not had to struggle, because they must continue the struggle. All is not yet well in Lexington, Spokane or America.

“We as blacks and whites do not have the respect we need.  We have feel-good events, but need more substantive gain. Church and government leaders cannot avoid responsibility.  All will account to a just God,” said Akins, who was in Spokane previously with a Franklin Graham Crusade.

“Good leaders will not let fear downsize their motives,” he said.  “I want us to say we stayed the course and fought for progress and freedom.  If we can do it one day, week, month or year, we can do it if we choose to do so.

“Fear is debilitating.  It manacles the mind, holds hearts hostage and enslaves us with excuses that leave us on the ‘I Can’t’ plantation,” he said.

Akins described a cartoon of a man dressed in a deep-sea diver’s outfit, sitting in a bathtub playing with toy boats and seashells.

“He lived in a bathtub mentality.  If we have given our lives to Jesus and hooked up with the holy, we are dressed for deep water and should do some deep-water living.  Too many are dressed for deep water but live in bathtub jobs, relationships and churches.  Although they are saved, they are afraid to launch out.

“They ‘C’ their way through school, enjoy Sundays and share with brothers and sisters of different colors one day a year.

“We will not handle our nightmares if we are comfortable with what causes discomfort.  We need to choose to give up the comfort with discomfort to have the future God would give us. God compels us to glimpse life in Spokane.”

Turning to scripture, he said Joshua led the Israelites, who escaped slavery in Egypt, from the wilderness over the river to claim the Promised Land.

“There are still enemies to defeat,” he said, “still some haters.”

As Joshua distributed the land, Joseph’s descendants said, “Do you know who we are?”

Marchers walk down Main St.

“God will fight enemies for us, overcoming them despite obstacles,” Akins said.  “With God’s help, we survived slavery, Jim Crow laws, segregation and lynchings.  Poverty is not just a matter of skin color.  Deprivation is not just about brown eyes.”

Realizing there are more white people who are poor, he said, can be a point for solidarity.

For the progress made, he rejoices in what God has done, but just as Joseph’s descendants said they deserved more and better, he believes that is still true.

“Our ancestors survived the civil rights movement’s dogs and hoses. They built churches on nickels and dimes. Now what will we do?  It’s one thing to have a heritage.  We also need to leave a legacy. 

“To do that, we need determination.  We need to step out of the bathtub mentality,” Akins said, asserting that it’s not good enough to be janitors or ball players, rather than managers.  “What works in the cotton fields and ball fields works in board rooms.”

Marchers call for unity.

He calls for marching, sitting in, singing “until we are represented.”  He told city leaders to ask for the help of black leaders when there is a budget surplus, not just when there is a crisis.

“Think of all God has done for you, provided and prevented for you. God kept me from dangers seen and unseen, and blessed me to preach,” he said.

Then Akins told of a trip to Texas for a revival.  To save money, he drove to Louisville to fly Southwest.  At the gate, a well-dressed woman struggled with her little girl, who was having a tantrum because they were not flying first class.  She flew first class with her father.  She finally said:  “I should be in first class because of who my daddy is.”

Akins took that comment to a theological level:  “Do you know who your daddy is?  You belong in first class.  God’s son Jesus died for you and got up from the grave for you.

“There is no more riding coach for me, no more coach grades, relationships or service.  Tell the world who your daddy is.  Step up if you want to move up.  I, too, need to go first class, because of who my daddy is,” he concluded.

David Brown Eagle
The Rev. Ezra Kinlow, Bill Maxey and Ivan Bush received eagle feather from David Brown Eagle.

Opening the rally at the Spokane Opera House before the march, Spokane attorney and civil rights activist Bill Maxey said, looking out on the crowd:  “I see ebony to ivory and all shades between.  It’s wonderful to celebrate as Spokane comes together to work together for the dream.”

Remembering an early march with only 25, he celebrated the thousands gathered Jan. 16. 

“We can achieve the dream so all have opportunity and are included,” he said.  “We are here today unified to listen, walk, sing, hold hands and struggle together,” he said.

“We know that astronaut Michael Anderson, memorialized in a statue outside the Opera House, fulfilled his dream with the help of mentors, parents and family.  He now symbolizes that dreams can be accomplished,” Bill said.

David Brown Eagle

David Brown Eagle of the Spokane Tribe reaffirmed the spirit of unity:  “We are as one.”

“My people—Spokane, Coeur d’Alene, Nez Perce, Kalispel, Yakama, Kootenai, Walla Walla and Palouse nations—used to gather by the river.

“My grandfather told me stories of coming here to fish.  My grandmother told of coming here to dry fish.  Tribes came together here and shared laughter, songs, stories and trade.

“Now hundreds of years later, people from many nations gather to recognize a man who stood up against violence and hatred, and a woman who stood up to someone who told her to go to the back of the bus. 

“We all have ancestors who stood up.  Early marches here were powerful,” David said.

Recently, the Spokane tribe celebrated recognition of the day in 1881 when their reservation’s history changed.

“When King stood up and people marched, history changed, too.  We march again in that hope.  My tribe welcomed you here.  Then we were sent away and treated brutally.  My people stood up.  Now I welcome you.”

David finds it enlightening when people relate history to their lives. He encourages people to ask their grandparents what happened when they landed on new shores, moved into new communities, had their land taken or were pushed to the back of the bus.

His mother, who was working in Seattle during World War II, was mistaken as Japanese.  She told them:  “I am native American—Spokane.”

“Our histories are related.  I hope our children’s children’s children will say: ‘I know you.  Your grandparents walked with my grandparents.  When you hurt, I hurt.  When you laugh, I laugh.  When you love, I love.  When you hate, I will not hate back.  Acknowledging history that way makes one passionate about history,” he said.

David then told about honoring the eagle’s power.  It has strength to fly so high it sees everything and takes prayers to the Creator:  “The eagle gives us strength to do what we need to do on earth—pray, sing and struggle together.”

Introducing the eagle feather ceremony in which he offered a feather to march organizers, he said, “Symbols are powerful extensions of our beliefs.” Then he passed a feather “from my ancestors to yours, from my family to yours, from my heart to yours.”

Happy Watkins
Happy Watkins

The Rev. Happy Watkins said in starting the “I Have a Dream” speech that King would have been 77 this year.  Now 38 years since he died, the question still lingers:  “How long?”

King says, “Not long, because the moral arm of the universe is bent to justice.  God’s truth is marching on.”

The line between King’s speech and Happy’s making it real is thin.

“God’s truth is marching on.  Although Spokane is facing difficulties today and tomorrow, I still have a dream rooted in the American dream,” said Happy, calling people to work, play, pray, sing, struggle and go to jail together.

Through to the words, “from every mountainside, let freedom ring,” he shared in King’s call for white and black, Jew and Gentile, Catholic and Protestant to keep up the struggle until “we can sing together, ‘Free at Last.’”

Ivan Bush, who had noticed two boys of different statures and shades playing near Anderson’s statue, called marchers to march “as one,” as those boys played.

Marchers of many races join in common efforts.

He recalled 25 years ago when 49 people marched from the police department to the federal courthouse.

“Folks stopped and waved, encouraging us.  It helped because we also had hurtful phone calls. Look at how our celebration has evolved!” he exclaimed to the large crowd.

On reaching Riverpark Square, marchers heard more presentations. Mayor Hession recalled the legal case of Plessy v. Ferguson in the 1880s, establishing “separate but equal” education, bathrooms, train cars, busses, water fountains and other public facilities, until Brown v. the Board of Education overturned segregation in education and the Civil Rights Act of 1964 removed discrimination from public places.

“We have a long way to go to improve race relations,” he said.  “Dreams are made, not won.  In the pursuit of equality and justice, we must be vigilant.”

Nancy McLaughlin, new Spokane city councilwoman, pointed out that “King’s faith gave him the moral courage to stand up against the evil of the day, believing good would overcome evil.”

Spokane School Superintendent Brian Benzl suggested that people can address demons in themselves and remove demons from society through education.

School board member Garrett Daggett recalled parents telling of growing up in a divided society:  “We are in debt to those who were not bound by circumstances.”  He urged parents to be involved with their children’s education.

Raymond Reyes, vice president of diversity at Gonzaga University, affirmed the value of education for passing human rights to children:  “The wisdom of community values depends on our DNA—descendants and ancestors. What we forget, we always are.  What we remember, we can change.  We must educate people from cradle to grave to assure the dream is made manifest with Spokane youth,” he said.

Rich Hadley of the Spokane Chamber of Commerce said the internet and global commerce today make small, minority businesses a driving force in the U.S. economy.  Many of the growing number of small businesses are owned by African-, Hispanic-, Asian- and Native Americans.

“For Spokane to be a player in the global economy, our education, business and government must reflect the world’s diversity.  Equal opportunity and multicultural awareness are smart business decisions,” he said.

V. Anne Smith, local president of the NAACP, said the Spokane chapter began 85 years ago:  “I stand here today as an African-American woman because Rosa Parks sat down on a bus.  She was secretary of the local NAACP that chose King, who started us on the journey.  We have come this far, and we can make it all the way. We must look beyond circumstances, which are real, and work into a new reality.”

Spokane County Commissioner Mark Richard said, “If we believe in equality, what will we do so we don’t keep asking, ‘How long?’  Today’s crowd is fantastic.  Look at the numbers here and the number not here.  We need to fill the arena with this event, by reaching those not here so they appreciate King and celebrate his birthday.”

Ivan observed that, with the leaders of city and county government, education, civil rights organizations and business together, something can happen in 2006. 

He suggested following his grandmother’s advice:  “Each one reach one.  Each one bring one.  Each one teach one.  Each one care for one.  If it’s to be, it’s up to me,” he said.

For information, call 455-8722.


By Mary Stamp, The Fig Tree - © February 2006