With Martin Luther King Jr. Day coming up Monday, roughly 1,300 to 1,500 Ashland elementary school students, teachers, staff and parents hit the streets Friday to commemorate the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom led by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Schools will be closed Monday in observance of the holiday.
A light rain dampened clothing but not spirits as bundled-up children carried on despite wind occasionally whipping signs from their hands.
They sang some of the same songs sung that historic day in Washington, D.C., including “We Shall Overcome” and “If You Miss Me at the Back of the Bus.”
“This Little Light of Mine” seemed to be the easiest for everyone to catch on to, Helman Elementary fourth-grade teacher Trish Dorr said.
Dorr was a part of the committee that put the event together. Walker Elementary and John Muir Elementary have celebrated together for at least the last 15 years, but this was the first year Helman, Bellview, John Muir and Willow Wind Learning Center came together to celebrate, according to John Muir Principal Rebecca Gyarmathy.
Walker kept to its tradition and celebrated Thursday, and the Siskiyou School, not in the Ashland public schools, also held its own celebration Friday.
As the rain fell harder and the wind pushed it sideways into the children’s faces, Dorr encouragingly yelled back at them, “We’re Oregonians!” Parents and older students tightened their grips on the hands of the younger students and pushed onward up Walker Avenue, through a small section of the Southern Oregon University campus and then looped back to Walker.
City and police trucks blocked the roads for the kids.
Mayen Akpan, Helman fifth-grader, said it’s important to recognize the work of Dr. King because otherwise not everyone could go to the same schools.
“Plus, I wouldn’t be buddies with Claire here,” Mayen said as a small child ran up from behind and grabbed her hand.
Many participants were wearing blue shirts with Dr. King’s face on the front. More than 1,000 of the shirts were made by the screen-printing class at the Ashland High School (AHS), Dorr said.
Helman fourth-grader Josie Christensen said it’s important to remember Dr. King so we remember that we’re all the same on the inside.
“No matter what race you are or what color skin you have, that doesn’t matter,” Christensen said. “We’re all human inside.”
She said she definitely wants to march again next year.
Gyarmathy said she hopes the elementary school march can become an annual event.
After the march, everyone gathered in the Ashland Middle School gym for an assembly. Music instructor Sage Meadows led a band and choir made up of students from all schools playing more freedom songs as students trickled into their seats, rather damp and red-nosed but laughing.
D.L. Richardson, an equity consultant working with the school district this year, led chants as the music wrapped up. The gym was filled with shouts of “Free-dom” and “Justice.”
A short biography about Dr. King was read, then all of the students sang freedom songs. A video featuring students from each school describing the importance of celebrating Dr. King’s work and what his dream means to them ended the event.
Free MLK Day events in Ashland this Monday include:
The 31st Ashland city celebration at noon at the Historic Ashland Armory, 208 Oak St. An overflow broadcast can be seen at the Varsity Theatre, 166 E. Main St. Donations will be accepted for the Ashland Emergency Food Bank. The event features live music from a variety of musicians and local school groups, and a keynote address by Kamilah Long of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. It will also be streamed live online on RVTV Prime TV and online at www.somlk.org.
An AHS- and Southern Oregon University (SOU) Black Student Union-led march from the event to the downtown Plaza to listen to a recording of Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech. The march should begin around 1:30 p.m. The public is invited to march even if unable to attend the prior event.
A Red Cross blood drive from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Ashland Elks Lodge, 225 E. Main St.
A vegetarian soup meal from 6 to 8 p.m. at Temple Emek Shalom, 1800 E. Main St., led by the Ashland Interfaith Clergy Circle members and friends. Guests are invited to bring dishes to add to the potluck and conversation.
From 5 to 7 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 24, the SOU Black Student Union will present a panel titled “Untangling the Roots of Micro-aggression to Further Understand Internalized Oppression” in the Rogue River Room on the second floor of Stevenson Union at 1118 Siskiyou Blvd.
For more information about MLK events in the area, see www.somlk.org.