A diverse group of people arrived at the student union at the University of Wyoming on January 29th, at dusk this group was to march down E. Ivinson to Laramie City Hall to demonstrate their support for the marginalized and disenfranchised. The participants chose signs, practiced chants, and opened a dialog about issues facing the community; when the time came the group was joined by a police escort, the street was cleared, and the march got underway.
This march was the opening ceremony for the MLK Days of Dialog, lasting a week, UW hosted a number of speakers and events that all revolved around building solidarity between different parts of the community. Though the act of marching is a symbol of protest, this event felt more like a celebration.
“It’s about bringing the community together and bringing awareness to social justice issues,” said Ashley McDowell a UW alumna, and a member of the sub-committee responsible for organizing the event. “It’s good to be present so that people see that your present, I think MLK Days of Dialog is great because it gives people the chance to ask the questions that need to be asked.”
MLK Days of Dialogue is an annual event that has been held at the University of Wyoming since 2002, each year the university organizes five days’ worth of events and speakers in order to show their appreciation for the late civil rights champion Martin Luther King Jr. and his message of equality.
The keynote speaker this year was Jason R. Thompson a UW graduate in sociology and Director of Diversity and Inclusion for the United States Olympic Committee. Thompson’s work in diversity and inclusion has won awards on a local and international level.
During the march the atmosphere was friendly and unifying, students, professors, and families from the community came together in a demonstration to raise awareness. The first chants of the march rang out soon after the group left the student union. The call and response calls being led by Jose Rivas, added to the atmosphere and got the whole group on the same page.
“I’m a DACA recipient myself,” said Rivas, a graduate student in counseling at the University of Wyoming, “and I am here to bring awareness to Laramie and other people across the state that we too are Americans and we are just here to give back to our community.”
This march was not the size of some of the marches that we are getting accustomed to seeing on television nor as long or formidable, but that did not seem to bother the demonstrators on this night. The sentiment of the march is what was important, and the idea that demonstrating even in a small town like Laramie is still important and worthwhile.
The group made it to their destination, the sun had already dipped behind the horizon and it was beginning to get cold. Standing in a huddle under the courthouse steps the group was met with another speaker waiting for their arrival. She spoke to the importance of community and sticking with the theme of the week she explained how an open dialogue of issues facing the community and the nation is the most important factor in making a real change.
“I came out here, really, to bring my son and show him what democracy looks like in action,” said Josh Montgomery, a Graduate Assistant in Education at UW. “But it’s sort of a funny time in American history now, so I thought, what a better way than to look back to the message of Dr. Martin Luther King and other civil right activists in moving forward.”
This was the takeaway from the march, as much as the media would like to portray the nation as divided and fragmenting these demonstrators wanted to show that the community, here in Laramie, is as strong and inclusive as it has ever been.
“The arch does bend toward justice even though it might be a long arch,” said Jacqueline Leonard, a professor in the College of Education at UW, “The march symbolizes, for me, the importance of marching wherever you are. So, you might not be in Washington D.C., you might not be in Chicago but wherever you are you can participate.”
The march had gone off without a hitch and the goal for the evening had shifted focus to the reception that was to follow. Though, as everyone made their way to Union Ballroom the atmosphere of understanding lingered, and the discussions of inclusion and social justice continued, as they will need to for much longer yet still.