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Loudoun remembers Martin Luther King Jr.’s legacy with message of unity

Hundreds of county residents marched from the Loudoun County Courthouse to the Douglass School in Leesburg Jan. 15 to celebrate Martin Luther King Jr.‘s legacy. Times-Mirror/Veronike Collazo
As Loudouners gathered to celebrate Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday and his contributions to the civil rights movement, unity and taking political action was at the forefront of the county’s annual celebration.

For the 26th year in a row, county residents of all ages, races, religions and backgrounds marched from the Loudoun County Courthouse in downtown Leesburg to the Douglass School — what used to be the only black high school in the county before schools were integrated.

The theme of this year’s march was “Unity Not Hate,” and keynote speaker Pastor Michelle Thomas said talk of hate has overshadowed talk of love and unity recently, and it is time for love and unity to take the front seat.

“We have to develop an intolerance toward hate and an insatiable press toward unity. We have to have limitless love and from love is power, from love comes understanding,” Thomas said. “The Bible says it like this, love covers a multitude of sins.”

Thomas said the crowded Douglass School auditorium had gathered to celebrate a dreamer, and now it was time to continue the work needed to make that dream a reality. She said it was ironic that five days before the celebration of King’s legacy, President Donald Trump made insensitive comments about accepting immigrants from certain African, Latin American and Caribbean countries.

It was immigrants from some of these very same countries that built America and contributed to the civil rights movement, she said.

“We gather here to honor and remember the life and legacy of a dream, but I ask you guys to wake up. Wake up because today is looking like yesterday. I can’t tell the difference between 2018 and 1968,” Thomas said.

Thomas called back to King’s "Letter from a Birmingham Jail." King wrote the letter in response to a coalition of pastors who wrote an open letter in a newspaper asking King to not protest and instead give Birmingham some time and equality would come.

In his letter, King said injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. King also laid out four basic steps to nonviolent action. Thomas called on listeners to use these steps to bring about change, to gather facts, negotiate and advocate for justice privately and publicly, self reflect on one’s own intentions and take direct action.

“Why am I talking about direct nonviolent campaign? Because the Ku Klux Klan is active again in Loudoun,” Thomas said, in reference to this weekend’s distribution of KKK campaign literature.

Now, just like when the KKK distributed recruitment materials the weekend before Halloween, police said no crime had been committed. At most, those responsible for the fliers could see littering charges if caught. So, Thomas said, it’s time for the everyday citizen to take action.

“You can’t oppress people all the time and not expect a response. Rioting is the language of the unheard. I’m not calling you to riot, I’m calling you to be heard, I gave you the steps to be heard,” Thomas said.

Loudoun County Board of Supervisors Chairwoman Phyllis Randall (D-At Large) said that though the country is divided, it should not be fearful because people like King and other civil rights leaders before and after him have already shown us how to navigate the challenges surrounding injustice.

“We stand on the backs of tens of thousands of people who have marched this march for us, who have paved this way for us, who have given us this curriculum, this syllabus and the answer to this test. We have nothing to be afraid of. We know how to do this,” Randall said.

“We know how to push back," she added. "We know how to fight. We know how to gather. We know how to become a team. We know how to come together. We do not fear these moments. We know what what we are doing. As I stand in this room, in this county, in this commonwealth, in this country and in this world, this is how it’s done. All people of different religions, different races, different backgrounds coming together to rise up and say, ‘We are one. We know how to do this. We will love our brothers. We will accept these immigrants. We know how to do this.’”

Attendees also heard prayers led by the All Dulles Area Muslim Society (ADAMS), the Baha’i Unity Prayer, as well as selections by the Loudoun Valley High School Jazz Ensemble, Park View High School Band, Dominion High School Choir, ADAMS Center Choir, in addition to poem readings, dance performances and solo performances.

The annual MLK march was founded by the Bluemont Concert Series, Baha’i Community, Loudoun/Douglass Alumni Association and Loudoun County Branch of the NAACP.

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Martin Luther King would not condone this unity parade.

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