Three different Martin Luther King, Jr. Day marches took place in Sacramento Monday, with participants calling for racial justice, community collaboration and better opportunities for black youth.
The city’s largest event, “March for the Dream,” changed its route this year to avoid construction at the Sacramento Convention Center. That march, which police say historically draws about 25,000 people, usually ends with a resource fair at the center. Instead, the crowd began and ended at Sacramento City College.
A community tradition continued in Del Paso Heights with the "North Area Martin Luther King Jr. March," which law enforcement expected would draw between 3,000 and 5,000 people. Families gathered at Grant Union High School to cheer on the school’s award-winning drumline and talk about the neighborhood’s future.
Del Paso Heights has a lower median income and higher violent crime rate than the city on the whole. The community has lost several people to violence in recent years. The morning began with a reading of their names.
Grant High Vice Principal Kim Davie then implored the students to use the march as a chance to get to know a community elder.
“Let’s talk about how we can save our communities as we’re walking,” she said. “Find out some of their dreams and what they didn’t do, what they did wrong. How can they right it, how can you help them? Let’s not just walk in our age group. Let’s make some friendships, some mentorships, some sisterships.”
Ed Vinson, who graduated from Grant in 1963, said a lot of the community traditions he remembers from childhood have been lost.
“I can tell you what’s been missing: togetherness,” he said. “A lot of people don’t understand the background of Del Paso. Now we’ve got to regroup.”
Ed Vinson, Grant High class of 63, says he’s marching for unity and “what we don’t have : happiness.” pic.twitter.com/rNNE6pqZ9I— Sammy Caiola (@SammyCaiola) January 20, 2020
There were plenty of multi-generational families marching together. Children ran around with groups of friends and weaved through the crowd on scooters and bikes. Ryanna Jordan, 9, walked with her mom and grandmother.
“Martin Luther King made a better world for us, and he got judged but he still stood up for black people,” she said, when asked why she decided to march.
Vanessa Esquivido, 34, held her 6-year-old daughter’s hand as they walked. Esquivido wore a Black Lives Matter T-shirt, but said she chose not to go to the local BLM chapter’s event because she wanted to walk with her partner, who is from Del Paso Heights.
“The community is really struggling right now, especially in the political climate,” she said. “It’s important to show our little ones that coming together can actually make some change.”
Vanessa Esquivido says marching is about “showing our little ones that coming together can really make change.” pic.twitter.com/wFja5YsogB— Sammy Caiola (@SammyCaiola) January 20, 2020
The “Reclaim MLK” march hosted by Black Lives Matter was set to begin and end in Oak Park. Before the march, just a few dozen people were gathered, many of them holding signs with anti-police and anti-capitalist language. Many former members of Black Lives Matter broke off from the organization last year due to conflicts with leader Tanya Faison. Some started their own group, “Sacramento for Black Lives.”
Faison, who organized the Oak Park march, said the goal was to provide a “safe space” for people who do not want to walk alongside law enforcement.
“If [Martin Luther King Jr.] was alive today, he would not be marching with the police,” she said.
Tension around the 2018 death of 22-year-old Stephon Clark and the lack of consequences for the police officers who shot him was an undercurrent at all three events, with Clark’s name and face appearing on the occasional sign.
Stevante Clark, Stephon’s brother, stood on a float at the March for the Dream near Sacramento City College and grabbed a megaphone to pump up the crowd.
“Y’all look amazing, ya’ll look beautiful, let’s turn up,” he said.
Stevante Clark leads a celebratory crowd from a float at the MLK Day March for a Dream, as paraders flood into the expo at Sac City. pic.twitter.com/Awcb4lBolU— Sammy Caiola (@SammyCaiola) January 20, 2020
The city’s main march was sponsored by more than a dozen health groups, financial institutions and media outlets. The parade featured modern and classic cars, multiple marching bands and dance groups, and several floats. Marchers held up signs quoting King and other black leaders.
Some marchers said they were there to advocate for specific causes.
“My dream is everyone has sustainable housing, that the system really supports people, and we haven’t gotten there yet,” said Toni Colley Perry, who works with a nonprofit focused on preparing black youth for college. “There’s too many people who are homeless, that don’t have a place to live.”
Kristin Michaels said she felt it was her duty as a Sacramento resident to get out and march.
“We’re out here today because it’s a celebration but it’s unfortunately also still a fight for racial justice in this country,” she said. “I think it’s important for people of all colors to be on the streets today.”
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