Citizen Staff Writer
By LA MONICA EVERETT-HAYNES
This year’s Martin Luther King Jr. Day march and festival was precious to Rasheda Powell.
Even more so because after walking more than 15 years with her family, Powell is moving to Dallas.
“I am doing this so my daughter will understand,” said Powell, 28, pointing toward 4-year-old Akyrah. “It’s important for us not to forget what King did for us.”
Hundreds more gathered at Reid Park’s Georges DeMeester Performance Center Monday morning to remember and celebrate King’s legacy.
“We might be small in numbers, but we are mighty in spirit,” said Carl Bedford, marketing director for the Tucson-Southern Arizona Black Chamber of Commerce.
“The movement and the desire for freedom is still strong,” Bedford said.
Earlier that morning, Mayor Bob Walkup shared his memories of King with the crowd of marchers.
“I remember in the ’60s the words of Martin Luther King,” Walkup said. “At that time, I recognized what a great man he was.”
King was assassinated April 4, 1968. Had the civil rights leader lived, he would have turned 78 Monday.
“The message that he gave to all of us – that is what this celebration is all about: the fight against discrimination and the things we need to do to make the quality of life better for everyone,” Walkup said.
King led the Montgomery (Ala.) bus boycott, endured house bombings and served jail time for his nonviolent tactics – all that before delivering his famed “I Have A Dream” speech at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C., in 1963.
His “Beyond Vietnam” speech was “very poignant,” said Amanda Shauger, who coordinated KXCI Community Radio station’s Martin Luther King Day programming.
King’s “I’ve Been to the Mountain Top” sermon on the eve of his death was also touching, she said.
“It’s easy to think that you already know Dr. King’s message, but when you stop and listen, you say, ‘Wow. I can’t believe he said all this,’ ” Shauger said. “Even if you thought you were familiar, there is a renewal aspect.”
But the festivities were not focused solely on King.
Organizers stressed the importance of addressing HIV and AIDS.
Also, the Coalition for African-American Health and Wellness named HIV and AIDS the target issue this year.
“There is no possibility to address other issues if we’re not alive,” Gezzele Martin, the coalition’s vice president, said during a public discussion late last week.
“The (festival) is not the only forum to get that message out,” she said, adding that various organizations will hold workshops and forums to discuss the issue throughout the year.
“With the leadership being much more aware and understanding the significance of HIV and AIDS in our community, they’ll say we need to make something happen,” Martin said,
City Council member Nina Trasoff said if King were alive, he would applaud Tucson.
“I think he’d been proud of what our community is doing this year in using this remembrance of him to address a real serious issue in our community,” Trasoff said before Monday’s march.
Last year, the state’s Office of HIV/AIDS reported that nearly 11,000 HIV and AIDS cases have been documented in Arizona with African-American women outpacing others in new cases.
“We need to stand up and not be afraid to talk about things amongst our families because that is what’s most important,” said Richard Elías of the Pima County Board of Supervisors.
As a crowd of hundreds teetered back and forth trying to keep warm in freezing temperatures in the shadows of UA buildings before a nearly five-mile walk to the park, Elías provided words of encouragement.
“We’re a little uncomfortable right now, but this is nothing compared to what the people suffered in New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina,” he said. “Let’s do this all for our children, for our community and for our country.”
What: “Rosa Parks Living History Makers Award Celebration”
When: 5:30 p.m. Feb. 7
Where: Rigo’s Restaurant, 2527 S. Fourth Ave.
About: The event honors those who live and work “in the spirit” of Rosa Parks.
Coordinators: League of United Latin American Citizens and National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP)
Information: To learn more and to RSVP, call 903-2838.