A sea of people gathered Jan. 20 in front of the Loudoun County Courthouse. There were both black faces and white, some people uniformed, others in street clothes and nearly all with ribbons depicting Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s face pinned to their chests.
But, much to organizers' joy, participants in the 22nd annual Martin Luther King Jr. “I Have a Dream” celebration in Leesburg included the largest group of young people in recent history.
The local high schools came out in full force, with the Loudoun County High School JROTC and the Heritage High School marching band leading the parade from from the courthouse to Douglass School and Community Center, about three-fourths of a mile away.
At Douglass, student musical groups from Briar Woods, Loudoun Valley and Park View all played for the crowd before speakers. In addition, the event at Douglass School featured church performances and a keynote speech from Kevin Grigsby, "From Loudoun to Glory: The Role of African Americans from Loudoun County in the Civil War."
“We're trying to get young people more involved,” said Tammy Carter, chairperson of the MLK Committee. Carter has been involved in the event since its inception and took over as chairperson in 2008. “When we move on, we need another generation to keep going on, to grow the way that MLK wanted.”
Carter noted this year's event boasted more school participation than any she had seen in year's past. In addition, she said the makeup of the event has changed significantly; 22 years ago, the march was mostly black residents.
“Now, it's different groups, ethnicities. It's absolutely magnificent,” Carter said. “We are all one, no matter color, religion, ethnic group.”
The Tuscarora girls basketball team were one of the student groups who participated, holding flags from different nations down Market Street.
“This is so we don't forget. This isn't just for blacks; it's important for us as woman and all minorities,” said senior Zaria Comer.
Her teammates nodded in agreement.
“It's good for us to show up and be part of the community,” said Logan Cromwell, also a senior at Tuscarora.
Mayor Kristen Umstattd, who attends the march every year, said this is one of the larger turnouts in recent years. Still, she expects the event to continue to grow, even after 22 years.
“This enables the community to come together in ways we don't always have the opportunity to,” Umstattd said. “It's a moving experience when you think about what it's all about.”
All photos by Chris Colvin