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Unity March messages repeatedly called
for moral leadership and nonviolence

Educational messages calling for remembering, celebrating and acting, and calling for moral leadership and non-violence in the model of the Rev. Martin Luther King., Jr., were bypassed by media who focused on a bomb left by the route of the Unity March in Spokane.

MLK Day Unity March 11
Martin Luther King, Jr., Unity March draws intergenerational,
multiracial, multicultural crowd.

The comments of the community and state speakers at the service, rally and march challenged complacency about to violence in the society.

During the rally, organizers Ivan Bush of the Spokane Public Schools and the Rev. Happy Watkins of New Hope Baptist Church said the crowd of thousands inside and outside the INB Performing Arts Center showed: “We have outgrown this facility!”

Happy was emcee for the commemoration service, and Ivan, for the rally.  Both invited a new generation of leaders to take over organizing the events.

The following are excerpts and summaries of some of the comments shared at the events.

Spokane Mayor Mary Verner:

We come together each year to evaluate what we have done to promote Dr. King’s dream in the past year.  It’s easy to say we fought for equal rights and the work is done, but we have more to do.  It’s the 25th anniversary of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, and we are asked to take 25 actions in 2011 to make a difference.

The City of Spokane will convene a Community Forum on Violence. 

MLK Rally Drummers
Drummers at the MLK Day Unity Rally and March

Dr. King called us to resolve problems nonviolently. 

In these times, we need to realize that representatives of city, county, state and federal governments are community partners. 

In the 1960s, we were called to action by the song of John Lennon:  “Imagine all the people living life in peace. You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one. I hope you will join us and the world will be as one.”

NAACP Spokane Chapter President V. Anne Smith:

On Aug. 23, 1963, Mahalia Jackson was singing “I’ve been ‘buked and scorned.”  Then A. Phillips Randolph introduced Dr. King as a moral leader of the nation.  Speaking from the heart, he was the anointed voice, our public conscience for 13 years, influencing our conversations on race and the nation’s multiracial movement.

In Norway to receive the Nobel Peace Prize, he was impressed by the country’s universal health care and free education.  Today, we need to realize if we cut education, we will not be able to compete in the world.  If children from low-income families do not receive free breakfasts and lunches, how can we teach book learning to hungry children?

African-American students have the highest dropout rates locally and nationally. Dropouts are living critics of society and our educational system.

Dr. King may be invisible to generations born after 1968. Some have forgotten because he has been airbrushed, reinterpreted, packaged and repackaged by left and right, liberals and conservatives.  He was a moral, philosophical, spiritual man, a father and husband whose dream inspired millions worldwide.

His nonviolence brought change with love, not guns.  The movement for equality and justice means political and social structures can exist for the common good.  We as a community can reach the day of equality if we care enough.  We can reach out to brothers and sisters who do not look, dress or speak like us. If one fails, we must help him or her.

Freda Gandy, director of the Martin Luther King, Jr., Family Outreach Center:

Dr. King lived an extraordinary life, following the call to social justice.  He reminded us that injustice and silence are not compatible, because an oppressor does not voluntarily give freedom.  He challenged us not to judge by skin color but to ask what we are doing for others.

MLK Rally Crowd
MLK Unity Day crowd

Elder Jimmy Pierce, Spokane Ministers Alliance president:

I thank God for the magnitude of the influence today of Dr. King who graduated from high school at 15 and went on to earn a doctoral degree.  His speeches and books still move people to act.

His character stands out.  Reputation is who people think someone is.  Character is who someone is.  A person of character stays in the kitchen when the heat turns up, even when others say to get out.  A person of character would neither quit nor act in vengeance.

Dr. King unified people who wanted to go their separate ways to go forward united.

Catholic Bishop Blase Cupich:

In a speech given at Western Michigan University in advance of the civil rights legislation debate in 1963, King insightfully noted that “morality cannot be legislated but behavior can be regulated. Judicial decrees may not change the heart, but they can restrain the heartless.”

These words have much to teach us in our time. They remind us … that those with ideals must also be real. They remind us of the need for society to craft laws that are just and protect the vulnerable, lest both justice and the weak fall through the cracks of an imperfect human system. They also call us, as did his example, to appreciate the importance of leadership and personal witness.

Dr. King called the adult world to take responsibility for promoting the common good by using legislative tools of government, [and]  coming together in families, neighborhoods, volunteer organizations and religious communities to build unity, especially when forces conspire to divide us.

Rabbi Michael Goldstein of Temple Beth Shalom

Praise God’s name that our nation has moved so far from racism and gross intolerance.  The bravery, tenacity and vision of Dr. King and religious and civic leaders who stood with him brought an end to segregation and greater equality to cities, both North and South.

His message brought the Bible alive as he spoke truth to power as Moses spoke to Pharaoh.  We have much to celebrate.  Much has changed.  We have come far, but we mourn that racism still exists and too often people judge others by skin color, family name or accent.  We cannot assume that all has been addressed when there is not equal access to food, housing or health care.

People can get guns too easily. There is still hate and extreme language in political discourse that make us cry in anguish and pain.  Dr. King called us to nonviolence.

Jews are reading now of the Exodus of our ancestors who came out of Egypt and plunged into the churning waters of the Red Sea.  We need leaders, but also must be prepared to jump into the churning water.  We need to take responsibility and march forward.  Let us walk together to repudiate extreme language and address problems with dialogue not demagoguery. 

We need to walk Dr. King’s way, hand in hand, lifting up our brothers and sisters in need.  Let our feet walk to end suffering and sacrifice.  Let us do our fair share, pay our fair share and then we will have reason to celebrate.  Mourning will be a thing of the past.

Ivan  Bush with sign
Ivan Bush shows the stsreet sign
for Martin Luther King Jr. Way

At the Unity rally, Ivan held up a street sign:  “We have a street, Martin Luther King, Jr., Way, because of you,” he said, inviting people to chant: “Ain’t no power but the power of the people, cause the power of the people don’t stop.”

“The street,” he said, “is a testimony of what we can do together.  Dr. King believed in faith, family and education.  In recognition of his value of education, the street will run through the Riverpoint Education District.”


Spokane County Commissioner Mark Richard:

Living 46 years in Spokane, I find more awareness, tolerance and respect than there was when I was a child.  There is also more culture—music, arts, food and events involving people from different cultures who live here.  We have grown.  We also have hatred, bigotry and injustice. 

It’s sad that in 2011 there are acts of violence and people still judge others by the color of their skin rather than the content of their hearts.  In 2011, we need to act.  We need to take ownership.  Dr. King said our lives begin to end when we are silent. 

When we hear hate and intolerance—even from friends and family—we need to challenge it.  When we see injustice, we need to demand justice.  When we see goodness, we need to thank our brothers and sisters, and celebrate the goodness.  We have come a long way, and we have a long way to go.Three new higher education leaders spoke.

Christine Johnson, chancellor and president of the Community College District:

The words of this American hero inspired us 48 years ago to be a better America.  He called us to live our dreams and to have the courage and tough-mindedness we need to speak out. Education is the equalizer.  America needs education more now than ever.

Greg Orwig, speaking on behalf of Beck Taylor, president of Whitworth University:

As we honor Dr. King and commit ourselves to his unfinished work, we need education.  He refined his God-given gifts with the hard work of education, so when the moment came for him to speak truth to the world, he was ready.

We, too, must educate ourselves, not only about the world but also about one another, so that when our moment comes, we are ready...ready to know the truth and speak it with grace in a world where truth and grace are in desperately short supply.

Thane McCulloh, president of Gonzaga University:

Dec. 5, 1955, the evening of the bus boycott, Dr. King struggled with the morality of a boycott.  He thought it might be wrong and dangerous.  Then he remembered Thoreau saying:  “We can no longer lend our cooperation to an evil system.”  Dr. King decided if they protested with courage, dignity and Christian love, historians would have to pause. 

Dr. King was the Gandhi of our nation and the Moses of our time.  There is an urgency that now is the time for justice to be delivered to all God’s children.  We are all God’s children and all have the choice for peace, justice, freedom and equality.Moral leaders give hope that fuels efforts for freedom, justice, peace