MLK Day youngsters march in history's footsteps

jpatton1@herald-leader.comJanuary 21, 2013 

For Amirion Joyce, 10, a fifth grader at the Academy for Leadership at Millcreek in Lexington, Monday's Martin Luther King, Jr. Day Freedom March held special significance, coinciding as it did with President Obama's second inauguration in Washington, D.C.

"Cause it's history," Joyce said.

Marching in his first MLK Day event with thousands from Central Kentucky yesterday was just the first step for Joyce. What does he want to be when he grows up?

"President of the United States."

He's already president of his school. Carrying their banner, Joyce led a group of more than a dozen students, parents, teachers and siblings in the march down Vine and Main streets on Monday.

"I think it will be a great experience for us. Give us more enthusiasm to have a better future," he said. "I think it will be a good thing for everybody."

For Latasha Jones, 29, of Lexington, the day was about honoring those who came before.

Federal legislation creating a national holiday honoring the Jan. 20 birthday of the slain civil rights leader was signed into law in 1983; the first King holiday was celebrated in 1983 but some states resisted and it wasn't celebrated in all 50 until 2000.

Now, the holiday has become synonymous with service and with unity marches reminiscent of King's non-violent protest movement for Civil Rights for blacks.

"It's a memorial to the people who opened doors, who spent their lives and their time working so that someone like me can go where I want to and work where I want to," said Jones, who has been marching since she was 16, when she got involved in organizations focused on diversity and social justice issues. "You've got to put action to what you believe in."

Lexington native Charlotte Lee, 65, was there at the beginning.

"Started marching for Martin Luther King in the '60s," Lee said. She remembers sitting at lunch counters in downtown Lexington that wouldn't serve her because of the color of her skin.

"Got spat on. Wiped it off and kept on going," Lee said.

The lunch counters are long gone and her marching days are over but she came for the celebratory Unity Breakfast beforehand.

"I wouldn't miss this for the world," she said. "Whether I'm crawling or walking or what, I'm here."

That's the kind of lesson that Jay Jones of Lexington brought his son Noah, 6, to absorb.

This was not Noah's first event but since he was in his stroller last time, this was the first time he marched.

Why did he come?

"My dad made me," he said.

What does the day mean? The first grader at Julius Marks Elementary isn't sure how to answer that.

"Come on, now. We talked about this," Jay Jones prompted. "Who was Martin Luther King?"

His eyes light up.

"He gave a speech called I Have a Dream," he said. "And he wanted black people and white people to be friends."

Janet Patton: (859) 231-3264. Twitter: @janetpattonhl

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