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2023 Martin Luther King Day rally, march are in person

James Watkins challenges marchers.


By Marijke Fakasiieiki

In opening the 2023 Martin Luther King Jr. Day Rally and March, Freda Gandy, executive director of the Martin Luther King Jr. Community Center, noted that it had been two years since the community last gathered for Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

"I'm so glad that we are back in person to honor the life and legacy of Dr. King. Thank you for coming out in the name of justice, unity and peace," she said, noting the importance of "passing it down to young people who are the now. We need them to take their rightful place now."

After playing a video of Happy Watkins, pastor emeritus at New Hope Baptist Church, giving King's "I Have a Dream" speech in 2021, Freda said the Martin Luther King Jr. Community Center Board is establishing a scholarship named for Happy Watkins, starting with a goal of raising $5,000 on Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

James Watkins, pastor of New Hope and Happy's son, spoke as people donated.

"This is my 37th year coming to the march. I was a freshman at Rogers High School the first time. We didn't have this many people. We were outside the whole time. It was a blessing to see Spokane come out to celebrate King's dream," he said.

James said Happy's contribution for 50 years in Spokane is more than reciting King's dream, which he is noted for doing: "He believed in the dream. He believed in Spokane. He wanted unity. He wanted equality and he worked every day for it," James said, adding that his father is struggling with his health. "We solicit your prayers for him, but rejoice that this scholarship will embody the work he's done.

"He's given his all. He's given everything he had like the person that he believed in, gave everything," James said. "So, Spokane, I stand in his stead to say, he loves you, I love you, and we just want to support the work that he's done and the work of the MLK Center. Thank you for this opportunity to bless my father."

Dontae LeMere, a student at North Central High School, shared a land acknowledgement, "We acknowledge that we are on the unceded lands of the Spokane tribe. The Spokane people share this place with other tribes through relations, resources, history, trade and ceremony. We thank the caretakers of this land who lived and continue to live here since time immemorial. This land holds the knowledge, culture and spirit of the people."

He asked the gathering to consider the impact of historical trauma from genocide and forced relocation, and to acknowledge the strength and resilience of the indigenous people.

Dontae is grateful for work with the Spokane people "towards completing our goals, knowing this gathering expresses one heart, one mind, one spirit."

Betsy Wilkerson, a member of the Spokane City Council, read Mayor Nadine Woodward's Proclamation, noting that King believed "true peace requires not only the absence of war, but also the presence of justice, and that violence brings only temporary victories by creating many more social problems than it solves."

She recognized that King awakened hearts of Americans by calling for equality and integrity among citizens, promoting a sense of justice that moves beyond racism and encouraging a realization that "injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere."

The proclamation urged citizens to live by King's principles and philosophy that all must work together to improve humankind by serving the community.

Vernon Glass
Vernon Glass sees unity.

Vernon Glass, a Rogers High School student and officer for their Black Student Union, asked those gathered to see their common unity. He quoted César Chávez, who wrote on the 10th anniversary of MLK's assassination,  "Freedom is best experienced through participation and self-determination."

In the 1963 March on Washington, he said, more than 250,000 people marched for jobs, equality and freedom in the largest civil rights rally in U.S. history.

"Those marchers would never see each other again, but shared similarities," he said. "They understood that to experience true freedom, they must act to end segregation, to end white and colored drinking fountains, to end the segregation of busses, schools, hospitals, parks and even telephones, to end everything separating people.

"We must embrace inclusion and create equal access regardless of the color of our skin," said Vernon, recognizing that those nonviolent marchers, "paved the path for many nonviolent marches and protests."

He shared King's words: "We must learn to live together as brothers, or we will perish together as fools."

He called marchers to take "a step forward to stay united and strong, because we can't spell the word 'community' without the word 'unity.'" 

Freda Gandy and JaNese Howard
Freda Gandy introduces JaNese Howard to sing.

JaNese Howard, a Shadle Park High School student, sang the national anthem and sang "Stand Up" from Cynthia Erivo in the film "Harriet.":

"I been walkin' with my face turned to the sun. Weight on my shoulders, a bullet in my gun. Oh, I got eyes in the back of my head just in case I have to run. I do what I can when I can while I can for my people...

"I'm gonna stand up. Take my people with me...going to a brand new home. Far across the river. Can you hear freedom calling? Calling me to answer. Gonna keep on keepin'on...

"Gonna start movin' towards that separating line...I got a made-up mind...I'll fight with the strength that I got until I die... I go to prepare a place for you."

Jerrall Haynes
Jerrall Haynes challenges marchers

Jerrall Haynes, former Spokane Public Schools Board president asserted that joining together as a community and marching down the street once a year is not nearly enough.

"Singing and rejoicing together once or twice a year isn't close to being enough. Every day, every week and every month that pass without us doing work to move us closer to achieving King's dream of the beloved community is disrespectful to his memory and legacy at best," he said.

Jerrall challenged participants to commit, to see each other again, join in community again and "fight the good fight every single day for the rest of our lives until we achieve that beautiful dream of beloved community."

Stephy Nobles-Beans
Stephy Nobles-Beans sings.

Stephy Nobles-Beans, associate chaplain for diversity, equity and inclusion ministries at Whitworth, began, "As we commemorate the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., we need to know he was a reverend before he was a doctor, a man of God, who preached the Gospel. He loved the Lord. He was a man in community."

"It has been 59 years since his assassination, yet we have not fully achieved the dream. It's still unfolding in you and in me," she said.

She quoted from "I Have a Dream" that "we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope."

"I'm not hopeless, I have hope. A man can live without food for a few days. A man can live without water for a few days, but no one on the face of the earth can live without hope. I am hopeful, Spokane, that we as a community will come together in the midst of despair, injustice, and inequality," Stephy said, reflecting how King "woke up every morning and stepped into the fire."

She inspired marchers by singing, "I ain't gonna let nobody turn me around, turn me around, turn me around. I ain't gonna let nobody turn me around. I'm heading up the King's highway."

"We can't afford to turn around," Stephy asserted, reflecting on her legacy as a mother, grandmother and great-grandmother, that her children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren are the now.

She challenged those at the rally to "be the change," because King was "a game changer, a dreamer, who contributed to the civil rights movement. He advocated for peace and organized marches. His style of communication was influential. He walked the dream. He talked the dream. He maintained a vision for a more diverse America."

"What are you doing, Spokane?" she asked, saying her call to the crowd is:  "Persistence is a cornerstone of impact. Be persistent, be tenacious, be determined, be steadfast, be relentless and be the change engine you want to see in this community."

Stephy invited the crowd to work for what they have been called to do: "What are the gifts and talents you've been given? What are you doing? Action speaks louder than words."

As an agent of change, she shared that she is "stepping into places where I can make a difference. I am taking action to help where my gifts and talents can be used."

She urged attendees to "be agents of change, the influencers of change, the mouthpiece and the heartbeat of change, the hands and feet, the heartbeat of this community for change. Dr. King said, 'If you can't fly, run, but if you can't run, walk. If you can't walk, crawl,' but by any means necessary, Spokane, keep it moving."

 She ended by singing, "Keep your eyes on the prize, hold on. When the day seems so long, and you feel you can't go on. Keep your eyes on the prize, hold on."

For information, call 868-0856 or email

Martin Luther King Jr. Day Photos by Gen Heywood.

Copyright@ The Fig Tree, February 2023