Why they march: Hundreds gather and celebrate MLK Day

Austin

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Hundreds from the community gathered in front of the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. statue at the University of Texas at Austin on Monday.

Each came to honor the late minister and activist’s life and legacy on the holiday in his name.

Hundreds gather to hear speeches and march (KXAN photo/Todd Bailey)
(Todd Bailey/KXAN)

Before the crowds, some took their pictures in front of the statue, while others like the fraternity Alpha Phi Alpha placed a wreath at its base. Soon after, they locked arms around the figure to sing their hymn and also pray.

The tradition is to remember Dr. King Jr. as their fraternity brother.

Harold Flenoy is the fraternity’s Alumni President in Austin. He has been part of the group for 20 years. He said what the tradition means to him:

“I feel like I’m on hallowed ground,” Flenoy said. “So many men that are members of the organization have passed on, so many men established what I reap the benefits of now, then hopefully one day my children or my family members or just other individuals can reap those benefits. So it’s definitely a humbling experience. Something that I look forward to each year.”

Flenoy, along with countless others, flocked to the stage as speakers like UT President Greg Fenves talked about Dr. King, and others who carried his message and actions.

Fenves focused on the late, former Director of the Center for African and African-American Studies, John Lewis Warfield and said of his efforts at UT Austin:

“Doc would help lay the groundwork for a transformation of this university where racist and discriminatory practices would be challenged and changed. And diversity, inclusion, and equality rose to become part of the moral foundation of the University of Texas.”

The march

The march kicked off the day of diversity and multi-culturalism after the short program on stage. It continued to the south steps of the Capitol, where crowds rallied.

Marchers carry a sign with a quote from MLK Jr. (Todd Bailey/KXAN)

For some, it was their first time.

“This is the first year I’ve been at the school where they did it,” Huston-Tillotson University sophomore Sierra English said

But there’s more to why.

“I’m mixed, and I feel like I should do it and I like how it unifies people,” she said.

Others, like Huston-Tillotson junior Kelaiah Tillman, have marched before. This is her third time. She said why she continues to come back.

“I’m elated to be here. I do this every year because I feel like it makes a difference in my life personally, and it makes me realize that this is nothing compared to what my ancestors and the people who came before me had to endure … this is the least I could do,” Tillman said.

She loves that people from many backgrounds come out to march.

“I think it’s amazing,” Tillman said. “I love to see different faces, different ethnicities, different nationalities because I think this is what he dreamed of. This is literally what he proclaimed, and he wished to happen. And so he fought to do this so to see it actually come to fruition, even gives me encouragement to keep going myself and I want to see a change.”

Change is something others are still hoping to see come around, even in Austin.

“There’s still a lot of racism, there’s still a lot of segregation. There’s a lot of social injustices going on in the world today and hatred, and that has seemed to become more explosive lately than when I was growing up and it seems like we’re going backward instead of going forward,” said Yvette Crawford, board member of the Austin-area Heritage Council.

She has been a board member for over 20 years and became serious about marching when she joined the council. She shared why she marches.

I’m giving back to the community I grew up in and I am trying to expose others to Dr. King’s message, his legacy, what he stood for. Trying to keep his dream alive and keeping it going and continuing because there are a lot of things that are still left undone.

Crawford

The march continued to the historic Huston-Tillotson University to finish the celebration. The university’s festival lasts till 3:30 p.m. It includes vendors and local musicians.

Food for thought

Canned donations to the Central Texas Food Bank (Todd Bailey/KXAN)

Those in attendance donated canned goods and non-perishable food items before the march. The donations benefit the Central Texas Food Bank.

Each area of the march including the University of Texas kick-off, the Capitol rally, and the Huston-Tillotson University festival provided donation receptacles for collection. The food bank lists what can be donated on the event’s website.

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