Despite freezing temperatures, thousands came out for the annual march to honor Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in downtown Lexington on Monday.
The front line of marchers included Lexington Mayor Linda Gorton, Secretary of State Alison Grimes and Attorney General Andy Beshear. Quite a few children stole the show, though, as they danced along to hymns sung by the crowd.
Terry Allen, the Martin Luther King Jr. Holiday Celebration Freedom March Coordinator and the Associate Vice President for Institutional Equity at UK, told the Kernel before the march that the event is a way to stay true to King’s legacy despite the changing political climate and new issues each year.
From 50 people marching on UK’s campus to the event moving downtown and building up to thousands of participants, Allen said the march has “maintained the integrity of purpose” over the years. That is, the purpose of honoring Dr. King’s legacy no matter what is going on in society.
“Last year is different than this year from where we find ourselves as a people and next year will be even different again,” he said. “But this in itself, the march, the purpose of the people marching will never change.”
Allen said some 47 organizations signed up in advance to participate in the march.
“That says something, especially on a day like today,” he said.
His favorite part of the walk, he said, is seeing what the walk means to each individual.
“You see all the different religions that are represented, you see all the different perspectives, all the differences in the people who come together for a common cause," Allen said. "Now, that’s special.”
In the crowd were several UK students, including social work senior Briana Sowers and business communications junior Gabriella Marmolejo, both marching for the first time this year.
Sowers said that despite the cold, she was excited for the community vibe.
“I’m really excited to be with a bunch of people who have the same thoughts about social injustices just like I do,” Sowers said.
She said she thinks it’s important for people to march to keep King’s work alive “for future generations as well as ourselves.”
Marmolejo said she walked to “stir something up in people.” She said it’s an opportunity to come together.
“We get out there and make that change we wanna see..." she said. “We can always better ourselves as a country, as a community, and it starts within the community.”
Immediately after the march, Kentucky Attorney General Andy Beshear told the Kernel that the march is “very timely." He cited a recent October incident in Louisville when two men were killed “because of the color of their skin.”
“We are better than that as people,” he said. He said divisions and hatred remind us that we have a long way to go and that we must come together. “At the end of the day, we’re all Kentuckians, we’re all Americans, we have more in common than what separates us.”
“What I love about this march is that everybody is in it together.” Beshear said. “Nobody’s on the sidelines, no one’s watching. We’re all marching to build a better world.”
He said to do this, we must become “our brother and sister’s keeper."
After the march, the crowd returned to Heritage Hall in the Lexington Convention Center for a celebratory program, during which time they heard messages from UK President Eli Capilouto and Mayor Linda Gorton via two large screens.
Capilouto’s message was recorded in front of the MLK Cultural Center in the Gatton Student Center, and he drew attention to UK’s initiatives to improve diversity and be a place that “celebrates all people."
“In the spirit Dr. King, our campus understands that we must all work together to create a community in which everyone feels valued,” he said.
He advised everyone in attendance to remain aware of the “unfinished work that remains and the mantle of responsibility Dr. King left to each of us.”
Lexington’s new mayor took the opportunity to discuss diversity in Lexington and the opioid crisis.
“Like many other cities, the opioid epidemic is taking a toll on Lexington,” Gorton said, adding that the best experts are working to combat it.
“Today is a day for celebration, but also a day for dedication,” Gorton said. “As we celebrate progress in our city, we all know we still have a lot of work to do to ensure everyone feels welcome here. We must dedicate ourselves, continuing to walk towards Dr. King’s dream.”
This was Gorton’s first march since becoming mayor and she promised to “be right by your side on our march toward diversity and inclusion.”
This year’s program was called “Transforming our Pain into Power” and featured a performance by Zeb Harrison and The Sounds of Praise and guest speaker Daniel Beaty.