Temperatures were low, but enthusiasm was high during the morning hours of Martin Luther King Jr. Day on Monday in Chapel Hill.
More than 100 people attended a rally at Peace and Justice Plaza, choosing to spend Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday as a day on, reminding themselves of King’s message and legacy, rather than treating it like another holiday from work and school.
Those who spoke at the rally encouraged attendees to take the energy and enthusiasm from the day’s celebration and let it propel them “Forever Forward,” the theme of the celebration, through 2012 to invoke change in both politics and their community.
“We are all here with hearts and minds alike,” said Terrence Foushee, a member of the Chapel Hill-Carrboro NAACP. “Use the energy we create here to push yourself forward to change in 2012.”
Using King as an inspiration and his words as motivation, presenters at the rally, representing a variety of organizations including the Chapel Hill-Carrboro NAACP and Occupy Chapel Hill, spoke of educational inequality, fighting against voter ID laws and keeping President Barack Obama in the White House.
Matt Hughes, chairman of the Orange County Democratic Party, used his time at the microphone to talk primarily about political matters, including the need for citizens to get out and vote.
“A lot of us voted for change in 2008, but some of us must have fallen asleep and forgotten to vote in 2010 to sustain that change,” Hughes said.
Not all speakers addressed politics. Kevin Daniels, president of the Fredrick Douglass Foundation of North Carolina, urged attendees to remember King as a preacher as well as an activist.
“What a lot of people have done is reduced Rev. Martin Luther King to a political agenda, which is sad, because he was bigger than that,” Daniels said.
Daniels reminded attendees that King worked with both Republicans and Democrats to instigate change, and that much like not judging someone by the color of their skin, one mustn’t be judged by what political party they affiliate themselves with.
“Above all, our call is justice,” Sacrificial Poets member CJ Suitt said as the crowd prepared to take to the streets for a march to the First Baptist Church on North Roberson Street for a service.
Rally-goers eagerly took to the pavement of Franklin Street, singing “Marching up to Freedom Land” and “We Shall Overcome,” and as their bodies found warmth, their voices grew louder, chanting “Fired up and ready to go.”
The diverse crowd then poured into the church, packing the pews, as regular churchgoers sat beside the non-religious and social activists shared space with police chiefs and local and state politicians.
The crowd was greeted by a powerful speech from Michelle Laws, the president emeritus of the Chapel Hill-Carrboro NAACP.
“We are here to recommit ourselves to the fight for social justice,” Laws told the crowd in a strong and amplified voice. “Welcome to the struggle newcomers; welcome to the fight.”
The keynote speaker for the day was state Rep. Larry D. Hall, who spoke about poverty, the Northside community and education.
Hall referenced King’s vision to end poverty for all races, but lamented the fact that while we have more resources to fight poverty today than in King’s time, the epidemic is worse now than then.
Hall also talked about the need for citizens to make certain the people they elected to represent them are acting in accordance with the needs of the community, saying, “I am an elected official, but you are the leaders.”
“This is the first day we can be what we want to be,” Hall said, encouraging those assembled to use this day to set the tone for their year.
“We all can be great because we all can serve.”
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