SAN ANTONIO — According to the latest U.S. Census, Black San Antonians make up about 6% of the city's population. But in a loud show of unity, what organizers call the largest event of its kind in the nation filled east-side streets Monday.
Call it a dream come true as tens of thousands of people remembered the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. with a march through the streets and day-long community celebration.
After a prolonged pandemic break that prevented an in-person march from being held in 2021 and 2022, just about everyone who participated this year spoke in joyful terms about the uplifting emotions rooted in being able to march together.
Renee Watson chaired the King Commission for two years and was honored by the group this year with a lifetime achievement recognition.
"Seeing the faces this morning is pretty much overwhelming," Watson told KENS 5.
Echoing the sentiment, a man cooking hot dogs in his front yard for anyone who wanted one called it an important and joyous time, saying, "Since Dr. King, every day is a holiday for me."
"We're happy to be back because this is all about community," added Lorraine Pulido, marching with a large group from VIA.
Former San Antonio Mayor and HUD Secretary Henry Cisneros spoke about his favorite spot on the march route at the crest of a hill that rises out of the Salado valley.
“When you stand at the railroad trestle and look back, you see what it means to have 150,000 people walking together," Cisneros said. "It drives home the scale on which San Antonio has accepted the values of Dr. King and it’s a beautiful thing. This is a city that has been bred on a tradition of mutual respect and fairness and a sense of justice."
MLK March in San Antonio
While marching west on Martin Luther King Boulevard, many remained focused on the future. One small boy sporting a shirt that read "We are the future" marched near a group of girls from the Young Women’s Leadership Academy.
Student Ella Esquivel said participating in the march is one way to push Dr. King’s dream forward into the future.
"A lot of people who are big and important are men and we need more women leaders," Esquivel said.
Alicia Sebastian represents the east side on the SAISD Board of Trustees. Sebastian said everyone, young and old, needs to do more than march.
“Don't let this be it," he said. "Make sure you find something else to plug into."
Mayor Ron Nirenberg was also among the throngs of walkers, saying there are times when you are proud to be from a certain place.
"This is certainly one of those times," he said, adding that now is a great time to be involved in the community. “Everyone, no matter their sphere of life, has a responsibility to make humanity better. It’s certainly true as hatred takes root, but this is a forward march to progress that can’t be stopped.”
Archbishop Gustavo García-Siller, the leader of San Antonio's Catholic community, said watching the sea of people surge together in a common cause was a blessing.
“In my heart today there is a great joy and a great hope, just to see families together. Blood families, churches, communities to carry on something beautiful and healthy in the midst of many tragedies,” García-Siller said.
Kimiya Factory is a community organizer who recently worked to gather signatures to bring charter amendments to San Antonio voters.
"We have a long way to go, but we have made so much change already," Factory said.
Mary Dierolf marched with a group from the League of Women Voters, who said the group has plenty of non-partisan resources for anyone who wants to become more involved in community progress.
"I always tell people democracy is not a spectator sport. Democracy only works if we all participate," Dierolf said.
Precinct 4 County Commissioner Tommy Calvert has civic engagement in his DNA. His father, TC Calvert, was one of the early organizers of the march many years ago.
Calvert said honoring contributions by past leaders is best done by carrying those good works forward into the future.
“We don’t do a parade. We do a march because we believe a march is the best way to honor the legacy of Dr. King because we still have issues, particularly now, when we have over 300 voter suppression bills throughout the country,” he said. “The challenges we have before us are of community, not of any one group.”
Pushing the effort forward, Calvert said young people need to be involved in this important process.
“We want to make sure they have the opportunity to educate themselves about the issues. It’s both book smart and community smart that we need them to be, because people want to cancel their voices in our democracy. We want no voices canceled," he added. "This is America. We need every voice."
Many of the participants echoed the same refrain: Register to vote. Show up at the polls. Volunteer for causes that bring joy and improve civic life.
For years organizers have encourage people to honor Dr. King by making the holiday marking his birthday a day on, not a day off. Now, many are saying the best way to honor Dr. King is to make his legacy a lifestyle and be engaged in community-building every day.
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