One Woman’s View: 50th March on Washington

It was an honor to be one of the thousands of people attending the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington on Wednesday. I am only 30, so of course I wasn’t at the original March but getting to go to this one really made me think about the past, present, and future, for myself and for the nation.

I incorrectly assumed that by taking the day off from work I would get a great front row view of the action, because given that it was a weekday event, I sensed it wouldn’t be as well attended as the event on August 24th, a Saturday.

That thought changed when I saw the extremely long security line to get into the Memorial. It makes sense that security would be tight: it isn’t every day that three Presidents, a talk show icon, and living legends take stage. I ended up in a not-so-bad spot at about at the middle of the reflecting pool, in front of a jumbotron, where I could see the speakers and entertainers. While I wasn’t in the front row, being in the crowd of people, talking to new friends in between speakers, and listening intently to the words of those lucky enough to speak at the event, I still felt fulfilled and inspired.

It was most interesting seeing how the crowd reacted throughout the event. They erupted in cheers when former President Carter spoke, were very impressed with Natalie Grant’s rendition of “I Love The Lord,” and clapped and yelled their approval when various speakers from the past spoke of modern problems: Stop and Frisk, Stand Your Ground, and recent changes to voter ID laws. They cheered and stood up when Mrs. Obama was spotted on the big screen (there was talk amongst the crowd that she wouldn’t show up since she wasn’t on the program), found the three little girls singing the National Anthem to be fantastic, and fell in love with MLK’s granddaughter Yolanda Renee King as she rang the bell.

I was very happy to see how much singing went on during the program, both planned and unplanned. Early on in the program, Andrew Young started singing about freedom. Hearing a huge section of the crowd join in was a treat. Having three young ladies sing the Anthem was beautiful, and the crowd went wild when legendary Shirley Caesar sang, and who doesn’t love Bebe Winans?

While walking to my eventual spot for the day, I spoke to a woman who had been at the March in 1963. I asked her what she thought of then versus now and she said, similar to the President’s remarks, that progress had been made in some areas but not others. That when she marched for jobs back then she never thought one day there would be a Black President addressing the crowd from the same spot so many years later, but that we still have far to go. She also said that she tried to bring her teenage granddaughter to the event but she didn’t want to be bothered with the crowd, and that that saddened her and made her wonder about the new generation coming up.  For the record, I saw a lot of young folks there so hopefully the new generation will be just fine).

A key line that stuck out to me was when the former President Bill Clinton said, “What a debt we owe to the people who came here 50 years ago.” It made me think of the woman I had spoken to earlier, and I wondered what she was thinking. How she was reflecting on her past, and how I might feel in 50 years if I am lucky enough to attend the centennial celebrations.

My biggest takeaway from the anniversary was what will happen at the 100th anniversary? Will little Yolanda speak with the amazing and inspiring tone of her aunt Bernice? Will, by then, President Obama have as a majestic statue in his honor and moment in history as grand as that speech? Will we be closer to achieving MLK’s dream than we are right now?

We have a lot of work to do in the next 50 years, and hopefully those in the crowd were inspired enough to change those words from the speakers into action on the ground. It is my hope that his dream can truly be realized by then.

Only time can tell but as for now, to quote the legendary Bill Russell at the March yesterday, keep on keeping on.

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