About 50 people participated in a Martin Luther King Jr. Annual Unity March Sunday to honor King’s legacy and bring to light current issues of racial inequality.
The event was jointly organized by the Second Baptist Church of Ann Arbor and First Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Ann Arbor. The group, consisting mostly of churchgoers, marched from the Washtenaw County Courthouse to the Second Baptist Church waving commemorative banners and sang songs such as the “Ballad of Martin Luther King” and “We Shall Overcome.”
Event organizer Ronald Woods, who serves in the Social Concerns Ministry of the Second Baptist Church, said the march is a yearly tradition held on the second Sunday of January. Its purpose is to commemorate Martin Luther King Jr.’s legacy, as well as advocate for issues related to racial inequality and social justice.
“It was started in 1983, three years before the holiday was federally approved,” Woods said. “The march this year is special because it’s 2016 and it is significant to keep forward motion going on issues of justice and race.”
Rev. Desmond Martin, an associate minister at the Second Baptist Church, said many of the issues that were on the agenda when the march began are still being advocated for today.
“Unfortunately many of the issues that were relevant when the march first started 34 years ago are still very, very relevant today,” he said. “The battle that was being fought was for the soul of America and that is still very resonant today.”
Other participants at the march, who came out despite the cold and fresh snow, shared similar sentiments.
Cheryl Ervin, a retired teacher and union leader, said she has not missed a march since she moved to Ann Arbor.
“This is a good way to show that you strongly believe in what you do and you get out on days like this and march for it,” she said.
Ervin said her involvement in the civil rights movement began in her hometown of Birmingham, Alabama.
“I knew what it meant to be segregated and not to have,” she said. “So I always want to make sure everybody has. Everybody gets a share of the things that are out here, not just a few. It’s just like that saying, ‘a rising tide lifts all boats.’ ”
Dr. Steven J. Daniels Sr., the pastor of the Second Baptist Church, said the need to engage youth in advocacy and social justice was also an ongoing theme.
Daniels, who arrived in Ann Arbor from Virginia nine months ago, was attending the march for the first time and brought his family along.
“When I tell my 9-year-old son about MLK’s fight for equality, it is kind of hard — looking at the Ann Arbor we live in now, when you see classrooms filled with African American, Caucasian, Asian, Latino brothers and sisters — for him to see them in class and realize that there was a time where he had to be with his own race and own culture,” he said.
He additionally stressed the need to preserve history of struggle in younger generations.
“The diversity that we experience especially in the public school system has been incredible,” he added. “But it is important for my son to realize that this comes on the backs of others. This is not a birthright, but this is something that was earned and we’ve got to appreciate it.”
Stephon Smith, a 17-year-old who serves as the drummer on the church worship team, said he was inspired by King.
“He inspires me to stand up for what’s right and stand firm for my beliefs, no matter who thinks they are stupid or don’t care,” Smith said.
Cindy O’Connor, a first-time attendee of the march, said she was compelled to come by recent events.
“Because of Black Lives Matter, the issue of race inequality has been so prevalent,” she said. “It has become unconscionable and I can’t take it anymore. So I wanted to make a physical statement.”