Once again, San Antonio's Martin Luther King Jr. Day march and celebration on the Eastside proved to be the one of the largest in the nation. Organizers estimate that more than 175,000 people participated this year.
The message that carried throughout religious, political and community leaders' speeches was clear, summed up by Mayor Julián Castro as the march began at Martin Luther King Jr. Academy:
"Our nation has made tremendous progress ... but we still have a ways to go."
Texas State Senators Wendy Davis and Leticia Van De Putte – currently running for governor and lieutenant governor respectively – also highlighted the human right to education as the main key to closing the gap on social and economic inequality.
Davis cited Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s famous quote: "It's all right to tell a man to lift himself by his own bootstraps, but it is a cruel jest to say to a bootless man that he ought to lift himself by his own bootstraps."
The audience applause was almost deafening as she completed MLK's thought with her own words.
"Boots come in the form of opportunity and that opportunity comes in the form of education, and San Antonio is leading the way making sure that every child – every child – who wants to make an education part of their world can do it starting from pre-k all the way up," she said. "San Antonio is proving the life and the legacy of Dr. King's message, that where you start should have nothing to do with how far you can go."
Each year, the MLK Commission gives thousands of dollars in scholarships to graduating Bexar County high school seniors to help pay for college tuition. MLK Commission Chairman David Copeland called on the crowd for contributions. Organizers are hoping to raise $100,000 this year. Those interested in donating to the fund or the MLK Commission are asked to contact staff by email at MLK@sanantonio.gov. The deadline for applications is 4 p.m. on Feb. 21.
"Our recognition of Dr. King's legacy and vision should go beyond one day of the year," District 2 Councilwoman Ivy Taylor stated. "Each and every day is an opportunity to work and make our communities places where children thrive and dreams are nurtured."
During her speech, Taylor cited the recent official designation of the Eastside as a "Promise Zone" from President Barack Obama as a large step forward for her district's residents. The status signifies an extra effort to improve education, housing and public safety as part of the local and national war on poverty. As a "Promise Zone," the Eastside will receive help and priority when applying for federal grants, and local businesses can get federal tax credits for investing in the community.
Also in attendance was Mayor Castro's twin brother U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro, former Mayor Henry Cisneros, Precinct Four County Commissioner Tommy Adkissson, District 1 Councilman Diego Bernal, District 3 Councilwoman Rebecca Viagran, County Judge Nelson Wolff and a host of other local dignitaries.
However, the most impressive and honored guests this afternoon were the volunteers and thousands of attendees. If you haven't yet had the chance to join your fellow San Antonians in a march for peace and progress – clear your calendar next year and be sure to bring plenty of water.
It's an opportunity all members of the family can share. The 2.75-mile route on Martin Luther King Drive is easily walked by rambunctious children, and there are services located near MLK Academy and the destination at Pittman-Sullivan Park so, even if you can't physically march, you can still partake in the feeling of unity and strength this day represents.
There were vendors in booths selling food and trinkets, as well as nonprofit awareness efforts (AIDS testing, healthcare, housing, religion, etc). Opportunities to get involved were available at every turn – from registering to vote to signing up to volunteer.
Attending the commemorative march was a perfect way to conclude DreamWeek, a 12-day community tribute to Dr. King. DreamWeek events have been hosted throughout the city promoting tolerance and dialogue in 12 sectors: city, health, youth, environment, technology, education, arts, spirit, justice, business, sports and cuisine -- all in the name of Dr. King's vision: "to lay the foundation of tolerance, by creating dialog across cultures and communities."
We'll close with a thought on education from the man himself:
"We must remember that intelligence is not enough. Intelligence plus character–that is the goal of true education. The complete education gives one not only power of concentration, but worthy objectives upon which to concentrate. The broad education will, therefore, transmit to one not only the accumulated knowledge of the race but also the accumulated experience of social living."
--Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., "The Purpose of Education"