A blue tarp covered the floor of the Garfield High School gym in preparation for the hundreds of people expected to gather for the 40th annual celebration of Martin Luther King Jr. Day in Seattle.
They entered the event space as the clock ticked toward 11 a.m., some arriving for the rally and march, some coming from the workshops that had begun at 9:30 that morning.
“It is good to be home,” said Bobby Alexander, the vice chair of the Martin Luther King Jr. Organizing Coalition.
The congregation sang and recognized the Black national anthem before hearing words by former King County Councilmember Larry Gossett and Rev. Angela Ying.
“I’ve been asked to give the invocation, which means we’re gathering to invoke love, peace and justice,” Ying said.
They then gathered in the school’s parking lot in preparation for the march downtown.
It was an event months in the making.
Orchestrating a community gathering on the scale of MLK Jr. Day takes a lot, and the people who work to pull it off are all volunteers for the Martin Luther King Jr. Committee.
KL Shannon has been involved with the MLK Committee for more than 20 years and has pretty much done it all, from peacekeeping to outreach to logistics. This year, she participated in the logistical and programmatic work, lining up the march route and the rally content.
“Our role is just to on the march getting folks from point A to point B, making sure that we have our security team in place and peacekeepers in place,” Shannon said.
The route depends on issues that impact the community. This year, organizers were focused on the promise from county officials to close the youth jail in 2025 and on conditions in the King County Jail. They ensured that marchers would pass by the Children and Family Justice Center in order to call attention to the issue.
“We really think that’s important — there needs to be a more holistic way of dealing with our children, really trying to get at the root of the issue that is not being addressed,” Shannon said.
Another issue that organizers wanted to highlight was the fate of the Odessa Brown Clinic, a mainstay of health care in the Central District that has been closed for renovations.
“They’re not telling us if it’s going to be back in the Central District,” Shannon said. “That’s very concerning, because it’s been at the heart of the Black community.”
Events start far before the Monday of the march.
Kate Harris chairs the workshop committee, which is in charge of more than 15 workshops that took place in the week prior to the march and rally and the day of. Harris has led the workshop committee for the past six years. They put out the call for proposals in early October, aiming for content that will speak to community members.
“We try to make sure we have a good range on who the audience is and who the topics are,” Harris said.
The committee has been working on increasing accessibility, Harris said. One of the challenges this year was creating dual in-person and online workshops, two of which were translated into five languages — Somali, Cantonese, Vietnamese, Spanish and Amharic.
The technical aspect turned out to be challenging, Harris said. Recruiting translators, finding professionals they could afford and seeking out funding opportunities to pay for them were not easy, but it was worth it.
“We have really been practicing,” she said. “How can we increase our accessibility?”
The group starts with either 22 or 23 workshop proposals before paring down to the 15 that participants will see. Sometimes people will have a germ of an idea that can be developed into a full workshop later on, Harris said.
“We give people explicit feedback,” Harris said.
Seattleites flowed from the gym to the parking lot before following the parade route to the downtown. Alexis Mburu, a member of the NAACP Youth Council, helped with the send off.
“It’s one thing to say something about King’s legacy, but it is another thing to show up,” Mburu said.
Read more of the Jan. 18-24, 2023 issue.