Yesterday marked Seattle’s 34th annual MLK Day Celebration at Garfield High, which gathers thousands of people each year to workshop, rally, and march together in honor of Dr. King’s legacy. Every year that I’ve attended has been enjoyable for (what seems like) obvious reasons – it’s a grand demonstration of one form of social justice activism, my community turns out, and these issues that many of us fight for every day become (hyper)visible to the mainstream community.
This year, however, we (my partner and I) decided to march a little bit to our own beat and honor the day in ways that felt most meaningful to us. All that really means is that we spent a good chunk of the week leading up to MLK Day reflecting and questioning our habitual workshop-rally-march routine. By questioning what was comfortable and customary and adjusting our day accordingly we were able to live out one of my favorite MLK Days to date.
Here are six highlights from the day that gave me the warm fuzzies.
When Sharon H. Chang defined social justice education and why we, as a people, need it.
We started the day at the “Need for Social Justice Teaching” workshop at Garfield High, which was paneled by three powerful social justice educators. When activist and author of “Raising Mixed Race: Multiracial Asian Children in a Post-Racial World” Sharon H. Chang discussed what social justice teaching was and why our world needs it I damn near broke my fingers from all the snaps I gave.
Free from buzzwordy, theoretical, or sensationalized lingo Sharon explained – social justice teaching is education that centers the experience and lives of marginalized and oppressed people, which we need so desperately because our society has never been just and not doing so perpetuates the injustice that built our nation. Short, sweet, and completely spot on. In a time when words like “diversity” and “social justice” are heavily coded terms being co-opted by mainstream rhetoric, it was refreshing to hear these terms used with intention.
When the MLK Rally fully embodied #BlackGirlMagic
When you pack hundreds of people into a gymnasium to celebrate social justice and Dr. King it’s bound to be pretty powerful. This year felt especially magical with the presence of and performances by beautiful black siSTARS. From Alaisha Jefferson’s choreography (which had me in tears) to 8th grader Levera Brown’s message on “The Female Youth Experience” and Garfield freshman Nia J’s rap verses, the affirmation that black womens’ lives matter was bursting at the seams and pouring through the streets. Keynote Erin Jones – who is currently running for State Superintendent and would be the first black woman to hold this position – also shared her story as an educator in the US and the need to live out Dr. King’s legacy beyond this single day; as a way of life. Swoon. These women are fire.
When the March Took a Turn for the Radical
Every year, after the rally, thousands pour into the streets to march downtown as action to disrupt business as usual. Though we chose not to march the entire way this year, we caught just enough to see the badass folks of the Seattle Black Book Club (supported by the rad ladies of Women of Color for Systemic Change) redirect marchers to protest outside of Uncle Ike’s Pot Shop to demand justice and reparations for the traumatic effects of gentrification in the Central District – Seattle’s historically black neighborhood. Read Seattle Black Book Club’s open letter to Ian Eisenberg – owner of Uncle Ike’s and
developer gentrifier of the CD – which includes a list of actions we as residents of Seattle need to hold this business accountable to.
When I Learned About Black Life at Hanford at the Northwest African American Museum
After peeling off from the march, we spent the afternoon at the Northwest African American Museum, which currently has an exhibit on “The Atomic Frontier” a period in the early 40s wherein blacks made a huge (and unrecognized) contribution to the creation of nuclear weapons production in eastern Washington. Spoiler Alert: many of the workers migrated to the northwest to work in secrecy on this undisclosed “war project” and did not find out what the project was until after the atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima. This exhibit along with the Harmon and Harriet Kelley Collection of African American Art, which runs until April 17 are a must see.
When We Shared a Meal and Movie with Our CrazySexyCool Activist Friends
Standing amongst hundreds of community members at Garfield is a powerful experience, but so is gathering with a small group of your favorite people to share and celebrate collective power and liberation. Since we began our day in a crowd of many, we wanted to close our celebration in a way that we see our activist work having the greatest impact – through cultivation and nourishment of intentional relationships. Watching American Revolutionary: The Evolution of Grace Lee Boggs was the perfect way to explore Dr. King and Malcolm X’s legacy through an activist of similar caliber who has flown under my radar for far too long.
When I Celebrated My Own Magic
As an activist, I often focus my energy toward reaffirming the strength and power of others, which can compete with the need to give myself the space to celebrate me. My complex relationship with my body and appearance as a woman of color usually has me shying away from public (specifically patriarchal male) attention that often makes me feel violated or unsafe. But not this day! On a day where liberation and centering of marginalized identities are the epicenter, I decided to unapologetically celebrate myself, my body, and my power. For me, that meant investing time into what I look like, so that I, not the world, felt whole and satisfied. Doing my hair, wearing lipstick, and walking through the streets with confidence are not part of my daily practice, so moving through the day knowing I’d treated myself was incredibly liberating.
How did you honor Dr. King yesterday?
And how can you live out his legacy on a daily basis? Let me know in the comments below!