They came in ski hats and waders, trudging through the wet morning snow that blanketed Denver’s City Park. Some carried kids on their shoulders or signs in their hands as they worked their way toward a statute of the man whose legacy drew them.
“Like Diana Ross sang it, ‘No rain nor winter’s cold can stop me, baby,” said Jade Reese of North Denver, whose hot pink snow boots got her to the Marade warm and dry.
If the morning was gray, the crowd was multihued – thousands of Coloradans with hundreds of skin tones, representing dozens of faiths and multi-generations to honor the life and work of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
Some were there for the man himself.
“For me, almost 20 years of coming to the Marade, race is the same color, same blood, same everything. So we’re humans. When they say, ‘What race are you?’ (I say) ‘human race’,” said Maria Alaniz, who came wearing a sombrero and carrying a framed picture of Dr. King, the man whose dreams of racial unity she shares.
Some had come to make noise about other dreams: ending police violence or homelessness, LGBTQ equality, a $15 rather than a $12 minimum wage.
Some had come for what they said was a much-needed bright spot in a week when Barack Obama leaving office and Donald Trump taking it has them feeling blue.
Reid Reynolds of Denver, 75, was a graduate student in the ‘60s-era deep South where, after watching King give a speech in Raleigh, he was roughed up by Ku Klux Klan members. Reynolds stood quietly at the side of today’s march holding a sign reading “Honor Representative John Lewis.” He said the recent interchange between the Congressman and the President-elect “really hit me in the gut.” Lewis said he would not be attending the inauguration because he does not view Trump as a “legitimate president.” Trump replied, in part, by tweeting that Lewis was “All talk, talk, talk — no action or results.”
“I was a bit player in the Civil Rights Movement and Lewis was one of the leading lights of it,” said Reynolds, who has been attending Denver’s Marade for decades. “This year, I thought I’d make a sign, with my wife’s help. Honoring Lewis… was what’s on my…mind.”
“Anything John Lewis said, I stand in support of,” said Wellington Webb, Denver’s first African-American mayor, and the force behind creation and placement of the MLK statue in the park.
Congresswoman Diana DeGette has served for years with Lewis. “I love John. He’s my inspiration, and my friend,” she said.
This year’s Marade, whose name is a melding of the words “march” and “parade,” was more of the latter than the former. It was noticeably more chill than last year’s Marade at which Black Lives Matter and other groups commandeered the event from Mayor Michael Hancock, Denver’s second African-American mayor, and drowned out his speech. Protesters brought mock-headstones to commemorate those killed by Denver officers.
This morning’s event, as Hancock told it, was about unity. “That’s the way I like it,” he said, linking arms with Gov. John Hickenlooper and Sen. Michael Bennet as the parade started its slushy path out of the park. Beth McCann, a week into her job as Denver district attorney, was part of that front line of dignitaries. She won office on a reform agenda promising better communication and closer collaboration with Denver’s communities of color.
Denver Police Chief Robert White, who had dispatched a large contingent of uniformed officers to the Marade, was giddy that, despite the cruddy streets, things were going so smoothly.
“It’s far better for me,” White said, comparing this morning to the tumult of Marade 2016. “Last year, I had all those people with the headstones going kind of postal on me.”
Header photo and video by Sarah Blume