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Perseverance brings results, community celebrates new Martin Luther King Jr. Way

Years of perseverance are behind the Martin Luther King Jr. Way that came to fruition with completion and opening of the first phase, extending Riverside Ave. east to Sherman through the Riverpoint University District.

MLK Jr Way with Rev Ivan Bush and Rev Happy Watkins
Mayor David Condon presents the key to the city to the Revs. Happy Watkins and Ivan Bush for their persistence in supporting naming a street after Martin Luther King, Jr.

Mayor David Condon celebrated that it runs through “the growing, thriving education district,” and honors the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., a civil rights leader who believed that education assures a better life for everyone.

It runs through the heart of the area for research and entrepreneurship, educating nurses, business leaders and more, he said.

The addition to the city’s infrastructure features bike lanes, walkways, elevated medians and park-like plantings.

Phase 2 will be extending the road from Sherman to Perry St., scheduled for completion in 2013, and the third phase will be a pedestrian-bike bridge over the railroad tracks.

Representative Timm Ormsby, who sits on the House Budget Committee, spoke of the need to overcome adversity to make the project succeed.  He quoted King’s words, “The arc of the moral universe is long but it bends towards justice.”

Dancers from Grant School entertained while crowd gathered
Dancers and drummers from Grant School entertained while the crowd was gathering.

Representative Andy Billig, vice chair of the House Transportation Committee, said he was proud to honor “a great American, Martin Luther King, Jr.,” with a project “that honors his passion for community and education.”  Andy said the street also incorporates elements of the Complete Streets program in Spokane, assuring health and safety, and paving the way for high capacity transit in future years.

“It will bring prosperity and growth to the city,” he said.

Speaking for Senator Patty Murray, John Colton said the project is a positive example of funds from the time of “earmarks.”

“It’s a milestone to the infrastructure that beautifies the area, reduces automobile traffic, enhances safety, produces economic stimulus and creates jobs,” he quoted a letter from the senator.  “The goal is to cluster downtown Spokane with the education district through a reminder of the legacy of the civil rights leader and a symbol of the community’s commitment to civil rights and education.”

A representative for Senator Maria Cantwell read a letter from her commenting that King envisioned a peaceful, just world with opportunities for education, and pointing out that this project is an example of federal, state and local sources working together to create a place for cycling, walking, driving and public transportation.

Brian Pitcher, chancellor of Washington State University Spokane, spoke of an exciting time uniting Riverpoint campus which provides education with opportunities and access for the next generation.  A partnership and collaboration of federal, state and local resources made it possible.

Marla Nunberg, vice president of the Downtown Spokane Partnership, celebrates turning the University District from a vision into a reality that creates a sense of place, unifying downtown with 11,000 students.

Keith Metcalf of the Washington State Transportation Department said the federal government provided $2.9 million and the state, $.5 million, of the $3.4 million for this phase.

Dorothy Webster
Dorothy Webster promoted the project from within City of Spokane staff.

Steve Gorcester of the Washington State Transportation Improvement Board spoke of use of more than half of the state’s 10 percent gas tax for the project.  The $2.7 million needed for the next phase has been committed.

Dorothy Webster, who worked tirelessly within the City of Spokane staff to promote the project, told of meeting King in 1968 on the campus of Tuskegee University.

“He articulated a dream and told us to have our own dreams and to work hard to make our dreams happen,” she said.

The Rev. Percy “Happy” Watkins of New Hope Baptist Church and the Martin Luther King, Jr. Family Outreach Center Board and Ivan Bush, who has been equity opportunity officer for Spokane Public Schools, both received keys to the city of Spokane.

“You brought the community together and broke down barriers,” said the mayor.  “You embody what King talked about and did.  You opened many doors for the community.”

Happy quoted from Walt Disney’s song, “When You Wish upon a Star,” it makes no difference “who you are” and no dream “is too extreme.”

Happy and Ivan with Street sign
Martin Luther King Jr. Way street sign with Rev Happy Watkins and Rev Ivan Bush

He said that 25 years ago his friend Ivan dreamed of naming a street after Martin Luther King, Jr.

“Over the years, there have been disappointments, setbacks, roadblocks, tears and heartaches,” he said, noting that “when you fall on your back, you can look up and get up.

“Today, this is a reality,” he said, noting that King said he had “been to the mountaintop, seen the promised land and knew that we would get to the promised land.

“Today, I’m stepping on the promised land,” Happy said.

Ivan quoted King’s words that “the time to do right is always right.”

“Spokane, you have done something right.  It feels good,” he said.

“King gave us three principles to guide us—faith, family and education,” Ivan said.  “This street naming embodies all three.  It took faith to persevere, no matter how long it took, we would persist,” he said.

“Yes, education! We came together and talked to educate each other on the value of doing this,” Ivan continued.

“It took family,” he added.  “Every time you use the street, I hope you will recognize that we are family.  We need to assure everyone a place at the table—each and every one of us.  We need to value and embrace our differences.  We are the Spokane family.  We value our differences and strive to make a difference.

“We need to continue to strive to have a place at the table for all brothers and sisters,” Ivan asserted.

Martin Hereford of All Nations Christian Center sang King’s favorite hymn, “Precious Lord, take my hand, lead me on, let me stand.  I am tired, I am weak, I am worn.  Through the storm, through the night, lead me on to the light.  Take my hand, precious Lord, lead me home.”

With classic cars provided by Hassic Classics from the era of King’s civil rights work, the civil rights leaders and other dignitaries climbed into the cars and were the first to drive on the street.

Martin Luther King Way opens in Spokane

A “Martin Luther King Jr. Way” street sign, like one Ivan Bush has held up at Martin Luther King Jr. Day rallies since Spokane City Council in 2009 approved the street, is now on a street sign post, and the new $3.8 million  Spokane street project officially opened on May 31.

Local civil rights leaders have advocated for Spokane to have a street named after Martin Luther King, Jr., who was assassinated in 1968 for his efforts for civil rights.

The road is an extension of Riverside Ave. east of Division St., running through the University District, which Ivan, who has been equity officer with Spokane Public Schools, said is appropriate because of King’s emphasis on education.

The first phase goes east to Sherman St., which connects to Spokane Falls Blvd.  It will go on the south side of the Spokane River under the Hamilton St. Bridge and join Trent near Erie St.

This phase of the street includes 120 trees, walkways and room for rail transit. 

The Spokane City Council approved the street in 2009, when 770 other cities had streets named for King.