Tom Eblen

March fit for King

I can only imagine what the late Martin Luther King Jr. must think, gazing down on our 25th celebration of the national holiday that honors him and the civil rights movement he led.

America still too often falls short when it comes to peace, justice and racial harmony. But we keep inching closer to realizing some of our nation's highest ideals.

In Lexington — where one of the South's busiest slave auction blocks once stood, and where some lunch counters of my childhood were segregated — the downtown streets were packed Monday with marchers of every age, color, creed and cause.

Hundreds of people stretched the length of downtown as they marched in a big oval, down Vine Street and back up Main.

This annual celebratory march is a symbolic reminder of those tense and sometimes violent civil rights protests of the 1960s. There are no police to fear now; they're marching, too. Lexington's top leaders in government and education lead the parade.

I've attended many of these marches during the past dozen years, and Monday's crowd was the biggest I've ever seen. It might have been because the weather was unusually nice, with sunshine and temperatures well into the 30s. But I like to think social progress had something to do with it, too.

After a quarter-century, this celebration finally seems to be shedding its image as a "black" holiday and becoming simply an American holiday.

One of my barometers is the fact that I see more white children marching each year, some with black and Latino friends. Many come in groups from churches and schools, which have the day off.

Jill Montgomery, 15, a sophomore at Mercer County High School, came with a youth group from Burgin Christian Church. They had attended the Sunday night service honoring King at Lexington's Central Christian Church, followed by a "lock-in" program about King's legacy.

"It made me realize the struggle that people went through to get equality," she said. "We learned how our country has evolved."

About 35 students and parents from The Lexington School were enthusiastic marchers. Last week, the private school held a special program about King featuring preschool students, said headmaster Charles Baldecchi, who was marching with his wife, Erin, and their three young children.

"Our school really emphasizes the importance of everyone getting along and how important it is to accept others," preschool teacher Shelly Rogers said.

In addition to the school and church groups, many families came on their own. Some said it was their first march. Others march every year and have been since the kids were infants in strollers.

"I just want them to know about racial harmony and how important it is for our country," said Stacey Kimmerer, who was there with children Allison, 6, Greg, 9, and Will, 12.

As a member of a white family living in the historically black East End neighborhood, Sherry Maddock said she thinks it's especially important for her son, Isaac, 6, to appreciate the values this holiday represents.

"We're teaching our children that this is really a day of blessing," said Rabbi Marc Kline of Temple Adath Israel, who was there with his daughter Rachel, 10. "We keep getting stuck in 1963, but these kids have to make it real in the 21st century."

Van Knowles and Susan Pollack bring their daughters Katie, 12, and Lucy, 8, each year for similar reasons.

"More's still ahead for justice for everyone of all colors, and immigration statuses and sexual orientations ... none of these things is finished," Pollack said. "Marching alone is not enough. There's a lot of work to do."

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