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Hundreds gather in Leesburg to honor King

photoTimes-Mirror Staff Photo/Beverly Denny Tuscarora High School girls’ basketball coach Michael Newkirk holds his son Caden, 1, and waves to onlookers as marchers gather outside the Douglass Community Center. Leesburg’s 21st annual Martin Luther King, Jr. Day march brought about 200 people from the courthouse down Market St. to the Douglass Community Center Jan. 21. Newkirk organized his team and the school’s dance team to carry flags, accompanied by elementary school students holding signs of the different countries, to show the unity and diversity behind the spirit of the march.

On Jan. 21, more than a million people gathered on the steps of the U.S. Capitol building in Washington to witness President Barack Obama be sworn in for a second term. At the same time, a small group of people gathered in front of the Loudoun County Courthouse to honor the man who helped get him there.

Bundled up in coats to guard against 35 degree weather, the group of nearly 200 marched to commemorate Martin Luther King Jr. and the Civil Rights Movement in Leesburg’s 21st annual celebration of the slain leader.

Participants ranged from the Heritage High School marching band to members of local churches to fraternity and sorority groups.

“This is our first year participating in the walk and it’s very inspirational,” said Lem Chance, vice president of the Northern Virginia chapter of the Buffalo Soldiers Motorcycle Club, as he gestured at the crowd. “It’s a symbol of unity. The amount of support from all walks of life is what Dr. King’s message is all about.”
Marchers walked down Market Street, past engraved bricks on the sidewalks bearing quotes from Dr. King’s most famous orations and onlookers snapping quick photographs.

The march concluded at Douglass School and Community Center, about three-fourths of a mile from the courthouse. Douglass opened in 1941 as a school for Loudoun’s black students during segregation and was named for 19th century abolitionist Frederick Douglass at the behest of local activists.

At the community center, participants were able to eat and mingle before listening to a keynote speech from Deborah Parker, author and founder of the DPJ Group.

Parker acknowledged President Obama’s inauguration today as evidence of the American dream in action.

To some of those in the crowd who lived through decades of racism,  Obama’s presidency is still as awe-inspiring as it was four years ago.

“Even 10 years ago, I didn’t think I’d see an African-American as president,” said Reginald Simms, president of the Loudoun Douglass Alumni Association and a 1955 graduate of the school. “I was in Washington a few months after Obama got elected. I went and stood in front of the White House and it just blew my mind that there was a black family living there.”

In addition to Parker’s speech, the afternoon portion of the event featured performances from the Austin Grove United Methodist Church choir, the Dominion High School step team and individual performances from poets, singers and dancers.

And although Simms was pleased with the event and the progress that’s been made, he noted that we can’t stop trying to improve as a society.

“A lot of progress has been made,” Simms said. “But we still have a long way to go.”

For today, onlookers and attendees were content to revel in the progress and successes that had been made, both in Leesburg and 40 miles away on the steps of the Capitol.

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