Longhorns, Austinites March for MLK

In the dappled light that broke through the canopy of oaks on the East Mall Monday morning, thousands gathered for this year’s Martin Luther King Day rally and march. Families pushed strollers and held balloons. Buses unloaded church groups and school groups in the circular drive below the fountain. Many carried homemade signs quoting memorable lines from King’s speeches. Others carried signs or wore T-shirts that referenced more current events—declaring “I can’t breathe” and “black lives matter,” rallying cries of recent protests against police brutality. The mood was celebratory, but also urgent.

Members of Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity joined hands and encircled a statue of King in a wreath-laying ceremony. Craig Williams, vice president of the fraternity’s graduate chapter, said that UT’s role hosting MLK Day activities was meaningful. “It shows that the university is committed to giving opportunities to all Americans,” Williams said. “It shows that we can be agents of change.”

Dozens of students from the Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired came to march, and said they had service projects planned for the remainder of the day. “A lot of times, blind and visually impaired people are on the receiving end of charity,” explained SBVI teacher Roland Cardenas, “so we want to show we can give back.”

State Rep. Dawnna Dukes invited other elected officials to join her at the podium, including Austin’s new mayor Steve Adler, JD ’82. The crowd cheered for former Texas Rep. Wilhelmina Delco, who was the first African American elected to the Travis County school board. UT President Bill Powers praised his colleagues, especially Vice President Gregory Vincent, for advancing diversity on campus.

Since he would have been completely hidden behind the large podium, a separate microphone stand was provided for 10-year-old Artist Taylor, winner of an MLK oratory contest. In a vest and bow tie, Taylor performed an imagined dialog with Martin Luther King, in which the civil rights leader offered encouragement to assuage the boy’s fears of violence.

Keynote speaker Kevin Foster, an associate professor of African and African Diaspora Studies, expressed outrage over ongoing violence against minorities, describing police brutality as the critical issue of the continuing civil rights movement. “We need to be videotaping and fighting for the right to videotape,” Foster said. “We want a community in which the police and the people are in full partnership.”

Photos by Matt Valentine

 

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