By Lisa Kaczke, Duluth News Tribune

Walking against gusts of wind on Lake Avenue on Monday, several hundred people chanted, “This is what democracy looks like.”

As the crowd turned onto Superior Street, the wind picked up and blew snow into people’s faces, but it didn’t diminish their chants.

“No justice, no peace! Silence is violence!” the crowd yelled as it moved down Superior Street.

Once the march moved into the skywalk, Stephan Witherspoon’s voice echoed as he led people to Symphony Hall, where a Martin Luther King Jr. Day rally headlined by Minneapolis radio personality Brittany Lynch took place.

Witherspoon, president of the NAACP’s Duluth branch, began his remarks by having all of the children stand up in Symphony Hall and repeat after him, “I will speak up. I am important. I can be who I want to be. I can be what I want to be and I will.”

While attending Monday’s events, Duluth Human Rights Officer Carl Crawford said he encourages people to pause to recognize King and for families “to sit together and really talk” about what King’s dream means for them.

Martin Luther King Jr. Day is about “togetherness, keeping the dream … building community. It’s about love,” Crawford said. “The biggest key is just recognizing that it takes many of us to do this job.”

Duluth resident George Warren Jr., who was participating in the annual march for his third time, said the day is about love.

“The celebration is just letting people know that hate’s not where it’s at. Love is the truth and that’s what we need to follow and this is what we need: community love, everybody coming together for one cause and to be powerful for each other.”

Events like this are still needed because there’s still a lot of confusion, hate and racism around the world even though people have fought against it, he said.

“We just want to keep that fight going because if we let that down, what are we going to get out of it? Nothing. We’re just going to end up at a dead end so we’ve got to keep it going,” he said.

Standing up to hate shouldn’t only happen on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, but instead, takes lifelong dedication, he said.

“It’s needed, even more now, for generations — to my kids and their kids,” he said.

Christian Davis of Owatonna was a member of a youth group helping out with the weekend’s events. As he has grown older and begun to understand more, the day has meant more to him, he said. He added that he was spending Monday putting himself in King’s shoes to understand what King went through.

“It’s probably the day that means the most in black people’s lives. Martin Luther King was such a powerful man,” Davis said.

Salaam Witherspoon, co-chair of the Twin Ports Martin Luther King Jr. Tribute weekend, said before the march that Monday’s events were a time for people to come together “for a dream that a great legend had that’s still not fulfilled.” The march is a time to unite as a community to let people know that injustice still exists in the world and they’re still marching. She said she hopes participants leave Monday’s events feeling energized “to continue the fight with us and be more than just allies,” including taking action to move the community forward. She encouraged people to get out of their comfort zones and join them.

“We’re still marching. We’re still saying the same thing. We’re saying ‘no justice.’ We’re still saying it. It’s inequality; there’s still systemic oppression. When is that going to stop?” she said. “I hope it starts some fire and really gets people to the point where, next year around this time, we can actually see some improvements and some action instead of marching for the same thing. Hopefully, we’re one step closer to Martin Luther King Jr.’s promiseland.”

March organizer Sandra Gbeintor said it’s important for the community to come together to honor King’s legacy of being inclusive and loving, and fighting for justice for everyone.

“It’s important to have this community and we continue to fight for the injustices that happen to each and every one of us, especially in a society where we’re all living in our own ‘pods.’ We live in a very individualistic culture and it’s very important that we know that we are not alone and that the injustices that we face, someone else has faced and we can come together to bridge those gaps,” she said.

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