Carbondale activists reflect on Martin Luther King Jr. Day

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Jared Treece | @bisalo

The March on Washington event was organizes by So. ILL. Unity Coalition and three other local organizations. Protesters, lead by Nancy Maxwell, made their way through downtown Carbondale, IL. The March on Washington was a nationwide event to commemorate the 57th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.’s March on Washington where he delivered his famous “I Have A Dream” speech. This event took place on Friday, Aug. 28, 2020.

By Kallie Cox, Editor-in-Chief

Nancy Maxwell, organizer of the Southern Illinois Unity Coalition, said the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. quote that stands out the most to her is “I have a dream.” Because she said, his dream was never realized.

Maxwell said King’s dream may not be realized during her lifetime, but she has hope that it will be during her children’s. She said things have changed to a certain extent since King’s lifetime, but have been reinvented for modern times.

“If you look at it in some parts, find segregation, you still find racism, you still find that the Black community is miles behind,” Maxwell said. “We need assistance with generational wealth. We need to be able to purchase houses. We need to have Black businesses, we need a police force that’s diversified and in the schools we need Black teachers. We need equal opportunity here in Southern Illinois and in the United States of America.”

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Linda Flowers, president of the Carbondale branch of the NAACP said MLK day is typically an inspirational day and a reminder of how far America has come since slavery and Jim Crow, but this year, it doesn’t feel as hopeful to her in light of the insurrection that took place on Jan. 6.

“Although I know you know we’ve made progress but it just seems we’ve taken some big giant steps backwards recently and so that’s discouraging but I guess we can use Dr. King as inspiration to keep moving towards that America that he dreamed of and the America that we want it to be,” Flowers said.

Flowers said while it is impossible to legislate hate or bigotry away, she has hope the Biden administration can make a difference, but she doesn’t think they can do it alone.

“All of us have a part to play in moving towards Dr. King’s dream and so it’s not going to take just a Biden administration,” Flowers said. 

Maxwell is also hopeful the Biden administration can help the community and said if she could talk to Biden and Harris right now, she would ask them to continue on the path they are going on.

“To see all the diversity that’s going on in the White House right now is simply amazing  and to see somebody who is working on all the issues like the pandemic and helping people out economically who have lost their jobs and don’t have a way to pay rent or purchase food or any other necessities that we need daily that they’re missing. I’d like to see them keep going forward with the effort that they’re making,” Maxwell said.

Maxwell said there are some saying ‘when Biden gets in then America can start healing.’  But she said this isn’t true and America cannot begin to heal until it solves the issue of racism.

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“Until Black people have equality and respect as every other race does. We can’t heal America, without jumping over that issue and saying we’ll take care of it later,” Maxwell said. “No it has to be part of the healing process. So I would like to see them look into that part of the issue. The part of healing America that includes healing racism. Or not healing it but taking it away, erasing it.”

Travis Washington, an SIU alumnus, created “the Hands Up Act” two years ago. This is a bill that would punish police officers for shooting unarmed citizens.

(See more: ‘Hands Up Act’ would punish police for shooting unarmed citizens).

His petition supporting this bill has since gained 2.7 million signatures and has been signed by Jacob Blake’s father, Breonna Taylor’s mother, Michael Brown’s mother and Antwon Rose Jr.’s mother.

Washington said he is hopeful for the future of the bill under a Biden administration.

To sign his petition visit: Hands up Act.

If Martin Luther King Jr. were alive today, Maxwell said he would tell folks to keep moving forward.

“One of his quotes that I like the most is if you can’t fly then run, if you can’t run, then walk, if you can’t walk then crawl but keep moving forward. I think that’s what he was saying. Keep moving forward,” Maxwell said.

One of the ways to keep moving forward Maxwell said, is to keep awareness going.

“Keep the marches going. I think that’s one of the biggest issues ever is behind a highly publicized person being murdered, we get to the streets,  then we march in big crowds and all over the United States and the country and everywhere and then after a while it dies down and it gets quiet again like its not going to happen again. But we know from experience, it’s most likely to occur again. So this time instead of letting it die down, I think we need to keep moving forward,” Maxwell said.

She asks that the southern Illinois community join her and the Southern Illinois Unity Coalition  in marching.

Editor-in-Chief Kallie Cox can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter at @KallieECox.

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