As Geovanny Tolentino stood in front of a crowd of nearly 300 at McKay High School Monday, he placed a hand on either side of the wooden podium.
“Martin Luther King Jr., the man we celebrate today, stood for many of his moral imperatives because he understood these (issues speak) to our basic humanity,” said the Sprague student about the minister and activist.
“It is the American people, the hopefuls, those who dare to dream for a better world who will guide the wave of progress to come crashing down on the shores of America.”
Tolentino, who serves on the district’s Student Equity Committee, was one of the speakers kicking off the MLK Jr. Day march and rally in Salem.
“We are the guardians of democracy,” Tolentino said, earning a roar of claps and cheers from the audience. “So let us protest, let us petition the government, let us run for office, let us expose the shortcomings of our political system and give a voice to the movement.”
The Coalition of Churches and Salem Keizer NAACP have organized a march on King’s birthday for the last two years.
This year, the 50th anniversary of King’s assassination, organizers wanted the event to be bigger and more inclusive than ever.
They partnered with multiple organizations, including the Salem/Keizer Coalition for Equality, Causa Oregon, Latinos Unidos Siempre, Salem Islamic Center, the Micronesian Islander Community, the Native American community, various labor organizations and the Racial Justice Organizing Committee.
The theme was, “Civil rights and social justice: the struggle continues.”
Participants began at McKay High School. Led by the Grand Ronde Color Guard, they marched down Lancaster Drive NE to the Willamette Town Center, formerly known as the Lancaster Mall.
Some cars honked and cheered in support as they saw the rally. Some yelled slurs.
This didn’t deter marchers, who carried signs with messages such as “Fear and hate don’t make America great,” “The people united against racism,” and MLK Jr. quotes such as, “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”
The event wasn’t just to honor King, speakers said, but to create a better tomorrow.
“Salem is better today than it was a year ago,” said Pastor Michael Weaver. “As we march today, march for our future.”
Contact Natalie Pate at npate@StatesmanJournal.com, 503-399-6745, or follow her on Twitter @Nataliempate or on Facebook at www.Facebook.com/nataliepatejournalist.
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