Dozens of people gathered in downtown Mesa Saturday for a unity walk celebrating love and commemorating the end of slavery.
The event was put on by the East Valley Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration Committee, which led the walkers around streets near the Mesa Convention Center while singing patriotic songs such as “God Bless America” and civil rights anthems like “We Shall Overcome.”
While the walk was joyful, it also had a more somber goal. The group is struggling to raise enough funds to put on the annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. parade and associated events and said without donations, it will be cancelled.
Committee Vice President Denise TrimbleSmith said many deep-pocketed donors have lessened their donations or have stopped financially supporting the committee altogether, putting January’s parade in “serious jeopardy.”
She said the march is especially important this year given the nation’s current political and social climate.
“We have some racial injustices that continue to happen and we’ve gotten better,” TrimbleSmith said. “But the climate in America right now, it’s hard to even believe that Dr. King struggled and fought for all of us to have rights and yet we still don’t take advantage of the love that he wanted us to live.”
TrimbleSmith said Saturday’s walk was an “urgency” and fundraising effort in light of the lack of funding, encouraging those gathered at the event to remain in solidarity with one another.
“The best thing we have on this side of heaven is coming together united during that weekend,” TrimbleSmith said. “It doesn’t just start and stop with me, it starts with all of us.”
She said the cost to put on the celebrations each year is in the “multi-thousands” of dollars and that the committee has to cover costs including permits for the parade, barricades to shut down the streets, portable restrooms and street sweepers.
John Goodie is a member of the committee and said it would be “an embarrassment” to not have the parade and other activities honoring King in 2018.
“Our nation is torn, both parties are torn,” Goodie said. “So we need to really reflect and maintain Dr. King’s dream of unity, brotherhood and love, togetherness.”
Goodie said the committee is about $8,000 short of what it needs to run the celebrations in 2018, and said he hoped Saturday’s march jumpstarts fundraising efforts.
“We’re getting an early start to let folks know, ‘hey, we’re in jeopardy and we need some help,'” he said.
Goodie spoke at the brief program before the walk started, leading the attendees in singing “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot,” before leading the walk and continued singing.
Dorothy Townsend attended the walk with her husband and granddaughter, saying she hoped to show her granddaughter an example of love and unity.
“We’ve seen a lot of stuff that exhibits disunity and people are so angry even on Facebook,” Townsend said. “The slightest comment causes people to get very abrasive, so I love the idea of us putting that aside and remembering we all have differing opinions but we can all be unified in our love for each other and our love for this city.”
Townsend said she’s noticed more disunity since the 2016 presidential election, adding that she believes there “doesn’t seem to be a lot of tolerance” on either side of the political spectrum.
“The attacks seem more severe and I don’t think we want it to fragment our community,” Townsend said. “I don’t think we want to find ourselves segregated into little populations of ethnic groups or cultures or cultural activities and definitely not on the socioeconomic scale.”
Townsend said that’s why she supports events like Saturday evening’s gathering, saying it brings the public together.
“It seems to be a rocky time but I hope people gather together in their communities, in their churches, cultural associations and come together when they get an opportunity for an event like this and little by little I think some of the animosity could be toned down,” Townsend said.
TrimbleSmith said the committee organizes a parade, breakfast gala and festival during the weekends leading up to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day, and also sponsors scholarships — all of which are in jeopardy if the committee’s funding needs aren’t met.
But even if there’s not an outward display of celebration like the parade or breakfast gala next year, TrimbleSmith said those who want to carry on King’s message of peace and unity can display it on a daily basis.
“I wish we could have a parade every day but the fact of the matter is we have to be the parade,” TrimbleSmith said. “The community needs to be the parade on a daily basis and then when it comes time for that January 15th weekend it’s just a reflection of what we’re doing every day.”
Those who want to donate to the effort can do so on the committee’s website, www.mesamlk.org.
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