Utahns honor Martin Luther King legacy with rallies, service
Although Martin Luther King Day saw a black man sworn into a second term as U.S. president, civil rights leaders in Salt Lake City say the fight for equality is far from over.
"It shows how far we've come," Jeanetta Williams, president of the NAACP of Salt Lake City, said about President Barack Obama's second inauguration.
"But we have far to go," she told her audience at the NAACP's annual Martin Luther King luncheon. "When we look at things going on even in our state of Utah, discrimination in employment, discrimination in housingâ¦we continue to fight and struggle."
Utahns marked such struggles on Monday at a variety of rallies, marches and service projects statewide, while speakers at the NAACP luncheon outlined some of the remaining work for social justice they say is needed.
Utah Supreme Court Justice Christine M. Durham, the NAACP's keynote speaker, noted that King talked about envisioning the promised land of equality. "We don't live in the promised land yet. That's a work under construction," she said.
"We have as a nation abandoned discrimination in our laws, and we work to eliminate it and ameliorate it in its more subtle effects in our society. But to conclude that racism, sexism, poverty, hunger and lack of access to education are problems we have solved is, in my view, not only naÃ¯ve or uninformed but risky."
Evidence that the promised land is still under development, she said, is "the disproportionate representation of people of color in our prisons and in our criminal justice system, and the still marked absence of significant numbers of women and minorities in public and private institutions of power."
David Barlow, U.S. attorney for Utah, told the luncheon audience that Americans should ensure "that the great work that has already been done [toward equality] doesn't rest, doesn't stop, but continues forward until we complete the dream of Dr. King."
Edward L. Lewis Jr., an NAACP board member, advised his listeners to "as you see injustice, address it. As you see racism, address it. Do not let it go unchallenged. In that manner, we will be doing and trying to carry out and achieve the dream of Dr. Martin Luther King."
Many Utahns spent the day Monday participating in such in such efforts.
Coral Azarian could have stayed warm at home watching President Obama's inauguration on TV. Instead, she celebrated Martin Luther King Day by marching, chanting, singing and joining in a service project on a 13-degree morning at Westminster College.
"It's important to remind the community that social justice is something we need to work to protect continually," she said. "It didn't begin and end with Martin Luther King. There is still much to do today."
Azarian was among about 100 people who rallied at the Salt Lake City college, marched through the neighborhood and then assembled hygiene kits for the needy for the Crossroads Urban Center. Similar rallies and service projects occurred around the state, including at the University of Utah, Brigham Young University and Weber State University.
"This is a tradition for me. As a kid I was excited to march and celebrate Martin Luther King Day," said Karnell Black, who joined the Westminster rally, where marchers voiced old civil rights chants and sang such songs as "We Shall Overcome." "It shows the dedication and commitment of Dr. King is still alive and relevant today."
Susan Abney said she brought her daughter, Maria, to the rally to "teach her a little bit about why she has a day off of school. I want her to know about the impact that Martin Luther King had in our lives. Maria, 11, described the experience as "cool," even though it was downright cold.
Westminster President Brian Levin-Stankevich told the crowd that remembering King "continues to guide us in our efforts to create fairness and equity for all on the basis of race, gender, ability, sexual orientation, faith and ethnicity."
At East High School, some 250 people gathered for 5th annual Martin Luther King, Jr. Celebration Rally and Marade (march and parade) to hear prayers, singing and a rousing speech from civil rights activist Brenda Burrell to "speak up and step out."
"Walk for what is right. Talk for what is right. And live for what is right," she said. "That's what the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King did."
In honor of King's civil rights marches, the group then walked to Kingsbury Hall on the University of Utah campus, where the program ended.
The Utah Food Bank also hosted its annual Martin Luther King Day of Service. About 80 volunteers, including those from Youth City and the Inclusion Center, helped sort bulk food for distribution to the hungry.
Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams told participants that it's important to honor the memory of King and quoted the civil rights leader: "Everybody can be great, because everybody can serve."