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Record crowd rallies, marches

The people gathered for the 2009 Martin Luther King Day rally at the INB Performing Arts Center overflowed down a back hall, across the breezeway outside and into the Convention Center.

MLK Rally Crowd
Martin Luther King, Jr. Rally Crowd

“Spokane, look at yourself,” said Ivan Bush, emcee and co-chair of planning, as he looked over the crowd of more than 2,500, a record for the event in Spokane.

“Wow!” exclaimed several speakers as they stepped to the podium and saw the crowd.

The Spokane Community Massed Gospel Choir sang the messages:  “I know who I am” and “behold I do a new thing.”

Ivan, equity opportunity officer for Spokane Public Schools, announced it was the 80th birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr.

“In our first march in 1980 from the jailhouse to the courthouse, 49 of us marched in the rain and mist.  We felt lost and out,” he said.  “Now as I look around, this is humbling.  It shows me the greatness of our community.  We’re not just black.  We’re not just white.  We’re not just Native Americans.  We’re not just Asians.  We’re not just Latinos.  Look at us Spokane!”

David Brown Eagle
David Brown Eagle addresses MLK crowd

David Brown Eagle, representing people who “cherished the river outside the door” before there was a Convention Center, Riverfront Park, City Hall or asphalt and concrete, spoke on behalf of the Spokane ancestors, land, river and animals.

“Everything is connected.  If we pollute the land or water, we pollute ourselves.  If we pollute our selves, we pollute our spiritual being.  If you want to be hated, be hateful.  If you want to be loved, be loving,” he said.

“We are growing.  We stand as one.  When many ‘ones’ stand together, we are strong,” he said.

David told of walking with his grandmother in downtown Spokane when he was eight.  She was wearing high-top moccasins, a calico dress, a scarf, and carrying a beaded bag to go shopping.  When three young men taunted her, David wanted to attack them.  She walked straight and tall, all four-foot-eight inches of her.

“Didn’t you hear them?” he asked as he walked on with her.

“Yes,” she smiled.

David looked back at them and asked his grandmother:  “Doesn’t it bother you?”  She looked at him and smiled, “I know who I am.”

“I did not understand then, but tears came to my eyes as I heard the choir sing:  ‘I know who I am,’” he said.  “If I know who I am, and we know who we are, we can stand together.  She could have taught me about hate and anger, but she taught me a lesson about love and acceptance.”

David invited the crowd to think of their ancestors, knowing that every group has trials and tribulations, and that “our ancestors taught us to love, not hate. What teachings will you give your children, grandchildren and future generations?  One day so many people will gather here there will be no room to march,” he said.

Mayor Mary Verner said:  “Look at what King started.  We are overcoming as was promised.  We are overcoming right now in our nation and in our world as we honor the truth of King’s words, the power of his intellect, his advocacy for non-violent action and his reminder that great causes involve great sacrifices.

“Let us not be satisfied,” she said, “until justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.”

MLK crowd
MLK 09 Rally Crowd

County Commissioner Bonnie Mager observed: “What a difference a year makes! Last year speaking on “The Silence Is Deafening,” she told of growing up experiencing her family’s racism towards others, hoping telling her story would be healing.

“Last year, we had made strides, but the country whispered racism.  This year’s theme is ‘Advancing the Dream.’  This year, we know it’s in our power to come together, advance the dream and end oppression,” Bonnie said.  “In these hard economic times, we come together in hope.

“This year what we thought would not happen in our lifetimes has happened.  After years of struggle, hope and justice, unforeseen events turned the impossible into reality, like the Berlin Wall  falling and South Africa’s apartheid ending.  Now we have hope for a better nation and world.

“Obama spoke at the Lincoln Memorial, where King presented ‘I Have a Dream,’ and welcomed us to a renewal of America, saying no obstacle can stand in the way of millions of voices.  What makes a difference is that people have heard the call to do their part to make the dream real,” she said.

Seeing young people in the crowd, Ivan challenged,  “Let’s embrace our young people. If we reach, care for and love one, we lift up all our young people.”

Spokane Public Schools superintendent Nancy Stowell, on behalf of the school board and 4,500 staff members, made a renewed commitment to pubic education; to eliminate the achievement gap; to understand racism; to create classrooms, schools, a district and community founded on social justice and compassion; to believe in the value of each student, and to advance all 30,000 students.

Freda Gandy, MLK Center
Freda Gandy, Interim Director MLK Family Center

Freda Gandy, interim director of the Martin Luther King, Jr., Family Outreach Center said:  “We honor a great leader who believed in a color-blind society and worked to make it reality.  He endured harassment, threats, being jailed 29 times and paying the ultimate price, so we could stand here today and remember that this is a day for all people, not just African Americans.  We are all part of his dream for America.”

The Rev. Happy Watkins, event co-chair, presented King’s “I Have a Dream” speech:  “I say friends in Spokane, though we face difficulties today and tomorrow, I still have a dream that this nation will rise up and live its creed that all people are created equal.

“Martin Luther King had a dream that we would live in a nation that would not judge President Barack Obama by the color of his skin but by the content of his character.

We will stand together . . . and be able to sing, ‘My Country Tis of Thee, sweet land of liberty.’  Let freedom ring!  When we let freedom ring in every state and city, we speed the day when all God’s children, black and white, Jew and Gentile, Protestant and Catholic will say:  Thank God almighty, we are free at last!”

For information, call 455-8722.

Copyright© February 2009 - The Fig Tree