Another year, another march, or so it seems. What makes the 2022 iteration of Seattle’s MLK Coalition March and Rally different than the previous 30 or so? Short answer: the theme.
Although there were more than 20 different concepts placed before the committee, only one garnered serious consideration: “Truth in Education NOW.” I believe that “Truth in Education” resonated with the committee because in recent years it feels like our nation has been contemplating the purpose of public education and finally acknowledging that education quality is dramatically different depending on a school’s zip code.
Education is a hotbed of debate. Should we have police in our schools to mitigate risk, or are some communities’ relationships with police so filled with trauma that the mere presence of police distracts some students from learning? What role should race play in education? Is a more sober review of American history going to create white guilt in adolescent children, or is considering the true scope of racial terror in this country’s history vital to reaching racial tranquility? Is there a relationship between school shootings and the Second Amendment, or do we — as a society — owe our children a degree of safety that might infringe on personal rights?
These are the questions that our morals, life experiences and political beliefs tend to influence dramatically and are consequently the questions society has been unable to reach a consensus on, despite a daily news cycle filled with these inquiries in conjunction with COVID-19 “debates.” Our speakers were selected with those questions in mind.
COVID-19 was also influential in our decision-making process. If we were going to ask people to physically gather and assume a certain level of risk, we needed to know the community was invested in our topic. Among people who care about public education, there is a reasonable anxiety that children who were at risk academically before COVID-19 would fall even further behind as a result of lost class time.
Even before COVID-19, there was evidence the artifice of public education was breaking down. Seattle Public Schools’ performance has been polarizing for as long as I can remember. The performance gaps associated with race, the coincidental low number of African Americans traditionally enrolled in advancement compared to “special education” and observed differences in discipline are not exclusive to Seattle, but still unacceptable. The MLK March and Rally is a day to bring attention to these disparities and inspire the community to band together — despite differences in race, social class and any other demographic category — in the spirt of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to consider solutions.
But, truthfully, the spirit of Dr. King extends beyond race. The committee never forgets that Dr. King was also focused on poor people. This is why the committee always offers a community meal and, recently, a job fair. This year, the job fair won’t be as large because of local COVID-19 mandates, but we felt it was important to offer some job opportunities because the legacy of Dr. King demands we acknowledge wealth disparity, particularly when we know how race and poverty intersect. Similarly, in the last two years we have developed a youth internship. The committee pays student interns a $500 stipend to develop a youth program, which airs virtually one day prior to the traditional celebration. This year, the committee hired five students, meaning we dedicated $2,500 to develop future leaders and organizers in this community. If only we could spend more!
One thing people don’t realize is that the annual march and rally does not happen spontaneously. It takes people from a variety of backgrounds spending their time, generally upward of 60 hours in a planning season, to make this event happen. In recent years our committee’s median age has risen. We need more young people to keep this event going!
There is potential for this event to be a weekend-long celebration each and every year. There could be a job fair that utilizes the entire weekend, workshops each of the days that offer practical skill building as well as a youth and general rally. Additionally, a community meal not just for people attending the event, but for people experiencing homelessness, is a possibility. Maybe even a blanket give away for people who need warmth during this violently cold season.
But none of this can happen without new volunteers. None of this can happen if community members take the celebration for granted. I never want to share my accomplishments on the stage during the rally because I am just another community member like you, but I have volunteered to be the vice chair and program executive. One day, I just want to be another person marching, and hopefully, YOU’RE ON STAGE.
Bobby Alexander is an assistant district attorney who earned his MPA from the University of Washington Daniel J. Evans School of Government and JD from the Michigan State University College of Law. He has been the MLK March co-executive since 2015.
Read more of the Jan. 19-25, 2022 issue.