A light snow began to fall as nearly 200 people took part in Fort Lewis College’s annual March of Solidarity for Martin Luther King Jr. Day, the theme of which was “how do we carry on Dr. King’s mission in a time of great divide?”
“I can’t think of any span in my lifetime when the country has not been divided,” said Ken Walker, 63, who is a junior at FLC. “But, right now, it’s as deep as it’s ever been.”
Around 12:15 p.m. Monday, students and others gathered at the Center of Southwest Studies and marched through the campus and, as is customary, sang the popular protest song “We Shall Overcome.”
The march ended inside the Student Union Building, where the FLC Choir performed James Taylor’s song “Shed A Little Light.”
Then, during an open forum at the Student Union, participants were challenged to answer the theme of the rally: How can the country heal after one of the most divisive presidential election in recent memory?
Walker, who called president-elect Donald Trump the antithesis of what King stood for, said the country must hold to King’s ideals of non-violent activism and continued respect in the face of hate.
“There is more strength in love than we can even begin to fathom,” Walker said.
FLC President Dene Thomas refused to directly acknowledge Trump’s most recent public attack on Rep. John Lewis, a celebrated civil-rights activist who received a Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2011.
Thomas did, however, call Lewis an “American hero” and “moral leader,” who has embodied and carried on King’s mission well into the 21st century while representing Georgia’s 5th congressional district for 30 years.
“And during that time, he has promoted a number of bills in favor of civil rights,” said Thomas, adding Lewis promoted a bill that provides tuition assistance to Native Americans, which is applicable to FLC students.
Brandon Francis, a 2015 FLC graduate who is Native American, said he grew up inspired by King’s words. He said his current work – uncovering the past agricultural practices of ancient Native American tribes – reflects those ideals.
“The way we can carry forth his mission is to connect with our culture,” Francis said. “We’ve lost that connection in modern times, and a lot of environmental justice issues stem from that. We need to come together and build bonds of kinship.”
Beverly Grant, a guest speaker on food justice who works at Denver’s Mo Betta Green Marketplace, said the best way to carry on King’s mission is to build relationships.
“It takes building relationships to build a movement,” Grant said. “I’ve found food can be a connection point that brings us together. When you share a meal with someone, you can break barriers.”
Two food justice workshops were held later in the afternoon at the college. At 6 p.m., a presentation called “Food and Power” was held, which featured speakers Grant, Francis and Mike Nolan of the National Young Farmers Coalition.
One speaker ended with a quote from King.
“In a real sense, all life is inter-related. All men are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”