It’s been three years since Black Lives Matter activists commandeered Denver’s Martin Luther King Jr. Day Marade in the wake of the death of a homeless man in police custody.
But there was hardly a whiff of controversy during this year’s 34th annual Marade, which drew thousands for an event that began at the MLK statue in City Park, marched west on Colfax Avenue and concluded at Civic Center Park.
In fact, Mayor Michael Hancock’s impassioned remarks early at Monday’s Marade drew some of the loudest applause of the day. The mayor noted that Dr. King was just 39 when he was killed, and that Jesus died at 33.
“There’s something about leaders who dedicate their lives, that God snatches them early,” Hancock said, before calling on the crowd to pick up where those leaders left off.
In 2016, the Marade was disrupted by Black Lives Matter activists who took the stage to protest the death of Michael Marshall. Hancock was heckled as he tried to deliver his remarks.
This year, Hancock’s address at City Park was one of more than two dozen by faith leaders, politicians and activists. Denver’s Elisabeth Epps, a lawyer and criminal justice reform activist, delivered the keynote at Civic Center Park.
“When I tell you I’m an abolitionist, I’m telling you that trans women are women, that women’s rights are human rights. That love is love. That there will be no Muslim registry on our watch. That borders are racist. That water is life. That black lives matter. Black lives matter — I tell you that unapologetically,” Epps said.
At City Park, Pastor Rosalyn Redwine, a 60-year-old from Denver, stood with her grandchildren and listened to speeches by Gov. Jared Polis; former Mayor Wellington Webb and his wife, Wilma; Joe Neguse, Colorado’s first black Congress member; and Attorney General Phil Weiser. She said a lot has changed — including, she said, that Denver no longer feels as segregated.
“Now we can live wherever we want to live,” Redwine said.
Carolyn McDougal, who braved the chilly morning weather with her granddaughter, said even though it’s easier to grow up as an African-American in Denver today, she still comes to the MLK statue in the park to meditate.
“I always tell him, ‘We still have more work to do,’” said the 61-year-old Denver resident.
Candidates for elected office used the Marade to stump; others used it as a political platform.
One group held signs protesting safe injection sites for drug users, which the Denver City Council recently approved.
Jerry Burton, a 56-year-old from Denver, was one of a group of four men who carried a tent that said “Sweep city council,” a reference to Denver’s homeless camp sweeps.
Burton said MLK’s words in his famous Letter from Birmingham Jail — that denying justice to some denies justice to all — still speak loudly today.
“This is about giving people the right for how to live their life,” he said.
Among the marchers, nearly half of whom were white, one carried a “White Moderates” banner, a reference to Dr. King’s message that racism will persist until whites recognize and combat their own complacency in the fight for equality.
“The white moderate is still the greatest stumbling block,” said Josh James, 38, of Longmont, who works as treasurer for the state Green Party.
One person said the event wasn’t about white people.
“White people, don’t make this about you,” said Jessi McVay, a 59-year-old from Denver. “Today is about Martin Luther King.”
In Civic Center Park, the retired Rev. James Peters, who knew Dr. King well, remembered a time in 1963 when King addressed parents of black high school students in Birmingham who were being barred from graduation because they’d participated in a civil rights demonstration. It would be alright if the kids couldn’t graduate, Peters said King told the parents.
“These young people will vote,” Peters recalled King saying. “And when they vote, they will change the history of America.”
Photographer Evan Semon captured Monday’s Marade. Here are some of his best photos, along with a couple taken by The Independent’s Alex Burness.