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Hundreds of thousands of people gathered at the Martin Luther King Jr. Academy on the city’s East Side on Monday morning, armed with signs, snacks, and energy for the 52nd annual Martin Luther King Jr. March in San Antonio. The march is one of the largest in the United States, with more than 300,000 participants expected from San Antonio and surrounding areas.
The march, which began at 10 a.m., covered 2.75 miles and ended at Pittman-Sullivan Park, where people gathered to listen to live music and speakers, including Beaumont pastor John Adolph, who gave this year’s keynote address.
Representatives from large San Antonio employers such as Toyota and USAA participated, as well as nonprofits and social organizations like San Antonio’s Rough Riders Motorcycle Club. Many marched unaffiliated in groups as members of the community participating in an annual tradition that has become entrenched in San Antonio’s fabric.
The Rivard Report spoke with marchers up and down the route, ages 5 to 80, to learn their motivation for marching and what they hoped to get out of the event.
Glynis Christine, 62
Glynis Christine has not missed a single MLK March in San Antonio since she started coming more than 30 years ago. She used to live in San Antonio, but now lives in San Marcos, she said.
“Today is a day that racists don’t get mail,” she chuckled. “They’ve got to wait to get their check tomorrow.”
King’s federal holiday is important because, without his advocacy, she might not have been able to own her own business, she said. Christine now works at Texas State.
And, she added, she met the man himself.
“I shook Martin Luther King’s hand,” she said. “When he was in Chicago, he came to my apartment complex in 1966. Isn’t that cool? When I shook Desmond Tutu’s hand I said, ‘I shook Martin Luther King’s hand, do you want a piece of that?’”
Lukas Valdez, 28
Lukas Valdez is from Austin but studies public administration at the University of Texas at San Antonio. He attended Monday’s march as a member of MOVE Texas and said the organization works to empower underrepresented youth communities in many ways.
“One of those ways is by voter registration,” he said, gesturing to his clipboard full of voter registration forms. I’m here to do my part and be out here. There are a couple of people who weren’t registered.”
At 10:23 a.m., Valdez had already registered five people to vote.
“I got five to 10 pledges to vote and we just started,” he said.
Lauren Bartee, 5 and Lisa Bartee, 31
Five-year-old Lauren Bartee waved her sign listing all the Girl Scout cookies available to purchase and called out to marchers as they passed by: “Cookies!” She and her mother live in Northeast San Antonio, and the Girl Scout had a very simple reason as to why she was standing on the sidewalk Monday morning:
“Because I have Girl Scout cookies to sell.”
Her mother Lisa Bartee, 31, reminded her that she also was there to remember Martin Luther King Jr. Bartee brought her daughter to the march to show her what King had done for minority groups, she said. And the Girl Scouts had been pretty successful in their sales.
“So far; they sold over 100 boxes,” Bartee said around 10:30 a.m. “We’ve been here since 6:30 in the morning.”
Drew Barcus, 32
Drew Barcus lives in Northwest San Antonio and attended the Martin Luther King Jr. March with the intention of joining others from his arts school, but said he thinks he was the only one to show up. He was happy to be at the march, though, he said.
“Just the sheer bulk of San Antonio’s community is made up of multicultural and multiethnic groups, and I am so happy to be part of one of the largest MLK marches in the United States,” Barcus said.
Fredericka Bodley, 45
Fredericka Bodley marched on Monday for the first time; she recently moved to San Antonio from Dallas, she said. Now, Bodley lives on the North East Side and just found out that San Antonio’s MLK march is one of the largest.
“I’m here for diversity, equality, and change,” she said. “I love people, the community, all races, all nationalities. It’s an experience, the first time doing this. I’m excited because of the big crowd and how many people came, seeing everyone come together. It’s a great experience.”
Katie Salahshour, 16
Katie Salahshour of the North Side also said it was her first time coming to the march. She joined several of her friends at their behest, she said.
“My friends invited me out and I thought it would be interesting, especially since it’s 2020,” Salahshour said. “In two more years, I’ll be able to vote and even though I’m not able to vote yet, you can still advocate for things you’re passionate about.”
Britt Jenkins, 50
Britt Jenkins drove down to the march from northern Bexar County; he doesn’t live in San Antonio proper, he said. He walked with other members of his church, Wayside Chapel, on Monday.
“[I’m here] to celebrate the legacy of Dr. King and identify with everyone that we are all brothers and sisters of the human race and we need to show love toward one another,” Jenkins said. “I believe Dr. King wanted us to emulate the love of Christ.”
Last year was Wayside Chapel’s first year participating in the MLK March, Jenkins said. This year, he estimated 25 members showed up.
“We plan to continue to be a part of this,” Jenkins said.
Eloi Gomez, 80
Eloi Gomez of Selma marched on Monday alongside his neighbors and friends, who invited him to the event. It was his first time, he said.
“I wanted to come and see what it was like,” he said. “I love it.”
Gomez wanted to try participating because he wanted to be part of something positive, he said.
“Getting together, coming together as a group – I think that’s good, everyone coming together,” he said. “Now that I know what it’s like, I’ll be back next year.”
Shawn “Proof” Pitts, 47
The president of the San Antonio chapter of the Rough Riders Motorcycle Club lives in the Canyon Lake area, and has been participating in the MLK March since he moved to San Antonio in 2014, he said.
“It’s something I like to come out to every year and participate,” he said. “My first was in 2015. [I love] the people, crowds. This is the biggest crowd there is in the nation. I just love seeing all the people come together for something positive. It keeps me coming back every year.”
Lemarc Holcombe, 34 and Faith, 9 months
Lemarc Holcombe lives on the Southwest side of San Antonio and brought his 9-month-old daughter Faith to Monday’s event. He attended as a member of the San Antonio chapter of Omega Psi Phi, a historically African American fraternity. Omega Psi Phi donates food for the march each year, he said.
“I’m helping my fraternity give back,” Holcombe said. “We’ve got 500 hamburgers and hot dogs, and we’re sponsoring the blood drive, trying to get people to donate blood.”
This is his sixth march, he said, and he brought his daughter and family to “start them young.”
“[I want to] let them know the history of the march and everything,” he said.
Mary Clark, 71 and Marilyn Jackson, 65
Mary Clark is from the East Side, though she currently resides in the North East. She has been participating in San Antonio’s MLK March since it started, and said she showed up this year because she wants to keep King’s legacy alive.
“I’m afraid if everybody has the attitude of, ‘I just won’t go this year,’ eventually no one will go,” she said. “It’s something I feel is necessary to keep the community and people in other places aware of Dr. King’s legacy.”
Her friend Marilyn Jackson also went to the first march and has been attending ever since.
“I think it’s important for the young people to know what was done, what was sacrificed for them to have what they have now: the freedom to vote, the freedom to express yourself,” she said. “This hasn’t always been the case. Through the sacrifice of those like Martin Luther King Jr., they can experience and enjoy that.”
Marilyn Stanton-White, 66
Marilyn Stanton-White moved to San Antonio from Detroit more than 30 years ago and has been attending the MLK March since. She was manning a booth for the Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Inc.’s San Antonio Chapter at Pittman-Sullivan Park on Monday. Alpha Kappa Alpha was the first sorority established for and by African American women.
“Alpha Kappa Alpha has a booth each year,” she said. “Our chapter is 90 years old.”
Alpha Kappa Alpha members shared information about sorority and fraternity life, the scholarships they provide, as well as various partners they work with on Monday, Stanton-White said. She said it was important especially to provide this information to youth.
“It is important to let young people know where they can go with their lives,” she said. “All of these women are college-educated. Some have graduate degrees. That helps keep the legacy of Dr. King alive – he wanted education for African Americans and everyone.”