Braving single-digit temperatures and subzero wind chills on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, hundreds of people bundled in scarves and coats Monday to march through downtown Lexington.
Afterward, in the warmth of Heritage Hall, many remained for a commemorative program that also was part of the city’s celebration of the slain civial rights leader, whose birthday has been a national holiday since 1986.
Brenda Gray, who has been attending the event for about 20 years, said she wasn’t going to let the cold deter her.
“It was a small price to pay to celebrate Martin Luther King because he went through many things worse than just weather,” Gray said.
The program at Heritage Hall featured a keynote address by actor Danny Glover, speeches from University of Kentucky President Eli Capilouto and Kentucky State University President Raymond Burse, and a performance by Miss Kentucky Clark Davis.
Glover, known for roles in Lethal Weapon and The Color Purple, performed a reading of a 1967 King speech, “Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence,” before engaging in a wide-ranging conversation with event organizer Ann Grundy.
Glover said that although “Silence” was written about Vietnam, it’s applicable to modern issues such as global warming and mass incarceration. Glover said he has two or three books by King with him at all times.
“We always find ourselves going back to Dr. King,” he said.
An activist long before he became an actor, Glover said that as a student at San Francisco State University he participated in a five-month protest that would lead to creation of the nation’s first African-American studies program. Glover, 69, who still lives in his hometown of San Francisco, said he struggles with seeing the growing income inequality there.
The change happens when people find ways to make it happen.
“How do we express our anger about what is happening? How to do we express our concern about what is happening?” he said.
For the moment, groups such as Black Lives Matter are the answer but not the solution, he said.
“It draws attention, but its not a movement, it’s a response to something,” he said.
For Black Lives Matter to become like the Civil Rights Movement, Glover said it would take time and lots of sustained effort.
“The change happens when people find ways to make it happen,” he said.
In his speech, Capilouto addressed a controversial Memorial Hall mural that attracted national attention in November.
The mural, painted by Ann Rice O’Hanlon in 1934, shows Kentucky scenes that include black workers in a tobacco field, black musicians playing for white dancers and a Native American with a tomahawk.
Capilouto said he often wondered what O’Hanlon would think about students who are offended by the mural.
“I bet she would ... understand that most are not offended by the work, but because of us,” he said. “Because for too long we insensitively let her work stand alone frozen in history, and absent of recognition of the struggle for equality and justice lead by Dr. King and others.”
In the hallway outside Heritage Hall before the program, about 20 boys from Alpha Squad, a local youth program, performed quotes from King, President Obama and others before explaining how they planned to become doctors, engineers and lawyers.
Jarrod Jones, 11, said he would become a Marine like his father.
Jarrod said Alpha Squad has taking him to God’s Pantry Food Bank to volunteer and is organizing a field trip to tour colleges.
His mother, Diedra Jones, said her son didn’t have the option to sleep in Monday, a school holiday.
“He’s learning this is part of his responsibilities to be a good, responsible citizen,” she said.
Jones said she hopes the large turnout showed her son that people still are dedicated to what King stood for.
“My son is biracial, so for us it means a whole lot,” she said. “You know, you have to embrace both sides of the culture and the whole unity aspect.”
And while she said she sees the regression of some aspects of King’s treachings, she’s hopeful things will be better.
“I think for the most part people are still thinking in those terms, or at least want to get back to that unity,” she said.