Nearly 400 people came out for Erie’s 32nd annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day march on a sunny Monday afternoon.
Participants marched from Perry Square to Sixth Street and then onto Chestnut Street toward the Martin Luther King Center, 312 Chestnut St. in Erie. They held up signs with King’s face next to a quote that read, “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter”.
Before the march began, Erie Mayor Joe Schember briefly addressed the crowd gathered at the Perry Square stage.
“If I only accomplish one thing as mayor, the one thing I want to accomplish is to eliminate racism and prejudice, so every person here is respected for the unique skills I believe everybody has,” he said.
Schember, along with a group of children, led the march. Several residents of homes on Sixth Street stepped outside to watch the procession of people march down their street.
Many groups and organizations in the community came out to show their support, including Erie Insurance’s African American Affinity Network. Tanisha Morgan, the group’s leader, said this was the group’s first march together since 2019.
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“We have our own little reception to talk about the importance of MLK Day and then those who want to come march, we march together,” she said.
Following the march, participants gathered in the parking lot of the MLK Center as a wreath was placed in front of a memorial casket to honor King. Those in attendance were invited to remain for lunch and a memorial service, which included a poetry reading and a performance by the Erie Dance Theater.
Stressing the importance of MLK Day to Erie’s youth
Gary Horton, president of Erie’s NAACP branch, addressed the crowd throughout the afternoon, focusing his attention on children.
“There’s far too much violence going on in our city today,” Horton repeated several times. “Dr. King was a man of nonviolence, Dr. King changed the world with his nonviolent actions, so young people, this message is for you: Dr. King gave his life so that you could walk down the path and over the bridge of opportunity. He didn’t give his life for you to die on the streets of Erie, Pennsylvania. If you believe in Dr. King’s dream, you have to turn your back on violence.”
Horton told the Erie Times-News that he receives complaints every week about the unkindness that takes place in the community.
“Kids are saying hurtful things to other kids and you know they get it from hearing it at home,” he said. “It’s important for parents to emphasize to their kids how some things are hurtful, and it’s important to reemphasize to young people how important his (King’s) impact was on American life.”
James Sherrod, executive director of the MLK Center, echoed Horton’s thoughts.
“We have to celebrate this because we have to allow our kids to understand why the Dr. King holiday is so important and why his life was so important,” Sherrod said. “I don’t think we do enough throughout the year to put that information forth to our kids. We can’t just celebrate on one day, we have to celebrate every day.”
Baylee DeMuth can be reached at 814-450-3425 or email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter@BayleeDeMuth.