In celebration of what would have been the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s 93rd birthday, hundreds of people marched in Seattle on Monday and demanded equity in schools and at voting sites — echoing calls made by King and other civil rights leaders decades ago.
The 40th annual event planned by the Seattle Martin Luther King Jr. Organizing Coalition focused primarily on education. Speakers called for equity in schools and curriculum that acknowledges racism and gives a truthful account of history. At the march, and others across the country, participants also decried new restrictions on voting in some states.
From Garfield High School, where King spoke in 1961, marchers filled Jefferson Street, spanning the blocks between 19th and 23rd avenues, as they began their roughly 3-mile route to City Hall.
High school students like Alexis Mburu led the march. After reaching King County’s juvenile detention center, people chanted, “What’s outrageous? Kids in cages” and “Black lives matter.” Mburu called on marchers to reflect on the words they chanted.
“It’s not something to say just to say it,” Mburu said. “You need to believe what you’re saying. That you believe in celebrating MLK’s legacy.”
As Cece Summerrise marched, she felt she was walking in her grandmother’s footsteps.
Her grandmother, Hellyne Summerrise, organized in the Seattle community around equity in education and marched with King in Washington, D.C., with the Poor People’s Campaign. She was a regular Martin Luther King Jr. Day march participant in Seattle, walking in every one until she experienced health issues, according to a 2002 article from the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. She died in 2003.
Cece Summerrise, 48, said she and her aunt, Fai Mathews, were marching to “keep her legacy alive,” as well as to protest voting restrictions.
“I’m really concerned about voting rights being taken away,” Mathews said. “It’s like we’re going backwards.”
It’s an issue that people are rallying around across the country. In response to new restrictions on voting in dozens of states — some of which are expected to disproportionately affect people of color — King’s family has called for “no celebration without legislation” and urged people to demand that lawmakers act.
The fate of a bill in Congress that would make voting more accessible is uncertain. Senate Democrats planned to move it forward despite Republican opposition by changing the Senate’s filibuster rules. But Democratic Sens. Joe Manchin from West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema from Arizona are opposed. President Joe Biden, who compared opponents to those who were against civil rights in the past, said he’s unsure the bill can pass this year.
In Seattle, marchers also focused on longstanding inequities in schools. Some, like Garfield High School Principal Tarance Hart, also spoke about the pandemic’s effects.
“Students have been without support for a year and a half,” Hart said, calling on those present to mentor and support students.
High school students and Seattle Martin Luther King Jr. Organizing Coalition interns Sira Doucoure, Osayi Stewart and Kennedy Palmore have a list of big issues they want to see addressed: the curriculum. Police officers in schools. Gun violence that disproportionately harms students of color. A lack of diversity among teachers and counselors.
“MLK helps remind me that even though change does not happen as fast as I’d like, it doesn’t mean that things can’t change,” said Palmore, a sophomore at Shorecrest High School. “There are actions I can take to bring change.”
Parents like Brent Droze thought it was important to bring their children to Monday’s event.
“We had a lot of talks last year about Black Lives Matter,” Droze said, with his 5-year-old son Jackson on his shoulders. “Things can sometimes fizzle out, so it’s important to keep up the momentum.”