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Local MLK marchers continue effort to overcome

Martin Luther King Jr. Day marchers cross Broadway Avenue in Rochester en route to Rochester Civic Theater on Monday.

About 500 people marched past Rochester landmarks with a police escort on Martin Luther King Jr. Day in Rochester Monday.

Participants and organizers called for peace, justice, access to housing, demilitarization, freedom and education. They also called for a renewed focus on helping young people better understand current affairs by looking both to the past and to the future.

Speaker Leslie McClellon, president of Rochester Community and Technical College, told the adults in the crowd that they have failed to adequately educate children.

"We have not continued to take care of our youth and educate them about our history and advocacy," she said.

W.C. Jordan, president of the Minnesota/Dakotas State Area Conference of the NAACP, said when he was a child, he often was shielded from the news, which included stories of violence upon civil-rights demonstrators.


McClellon said it's important to help children understand what's taking place.

People figure, she said, "if they're not doing it here, we must be doing a good job," hinting at police-citizen confrontations in Missouri and New York that prompted protests across the country — some of which were peaceful and others that included devastating destruction of property.

Veronica Collins, of Rochester, said she previously had attended Martin Luther King Day marches but is particularly concerned this year.

"With all the killings and stuff, I think (2014 was) the worst year," she said. "But I hope it changes. I hope it gets better this year."

Her 8-year-old granddaughter, Tiara Moore, a Hoover Elementary School student, marched alongside her grandmother and made a special effort to make sure her cousins, who were expected to arrive late, also would have decorated signs to carry.

Tiara had one that said, " I have a dream " and another that read "Let's keep the dream alive." She isn't yet able to easily articulate why Martin Luther King Jr. continues to play such a pivotal role in U.S. history, but McClellon hopes children will become increasingly historically savvy and also become vehicles of change.

"Dr. King is widely regarded as America's pre-eminent advocate of nonviolence and one of the greatest nonviolent leaders in world history," says a biographical description from The King Center .

Martin Luther King Jr. Day became a federal holiday in 1983. It is celebrated on the third Monday in January. The holiday is called the MLK National Day of Service and is intended as a day to serve the community as "a day on, not a day off."


King was assassinated on April 4, 1968, in Memphis, Tenn., where he had gone to lead sanitation workers protesting "low wages and intolerable working conditions."

Maricke Mayweathers, of Zumbro Falls, said she took her daughters, Kiara, 4, and Scarlett, 1, to the March because "it's important for the girls to know that there were so many sacrifices that were made so we can have the opportunities that we have." And, she said, there are many more sacrifices that need to be made to bring more opportunities for the future.

Bill Lindsey, 53, of Rochester, wished aloud that more high school and college-age young people had attended the march (his own high-school-age daughter stayed home because she needed to study for exams). He has attended the Martin Luther King Jr. march for more than 20 years. Rochester is "really not that bad," he said.

"Just do what you're supposed to do, and then you don't have to worry, usually," he said.

Lindsey grew up in the South, and it's difficult to explain what discrimination is like, he said.

"You just get treated differently. You almost have to be squeaky clean just to get by. I've been stopped even here. The first thing they ask you is, 'Where do you work?'" he said.

All people have the same body parts, he said, so the color of a person's skin shouldn't matter. He wants to be judged instead by his character as a person.

McClellon said everyone should have equal access to the benefits of society, with an equal responsibility to fulfill their societal obligations.


She challenged young people in the audience at Rochester Civic Theater, where participants gathered after the march, to look up topics such as Unheard at the University of Oklahoma to educate themselves about current issues.

And, she said, "I challenge the adults in this room to recommit yourself to educating our youth."

McClellon can self-criticize elders because she personally remembers the civil rights struggle of the 1960s.

"We only obtained the right to vote, young people, in my lifetime — and, trust me, that was not very long ago," she said.

The civil rights issues of today carry a common thread to historical ones, McClellon suggested.

"Beatings are still beatings. The glass ceiling does exist," she said.

Despite her education, experience and qualifications, "still, some question whether I am good enough, whether I understand diversity," she said. Has discrimination gone away?

"The issues are the same, just outfitted in a different way," McClellon said. But she emphasized that "I do not believe that history is repeating itself. It never changed. We are still working to overcome — some day."


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