Universities, schools unite for Martin Luther King Jr. March

Participants in the Lexington Martin Luther King Day parade march downtown on Monday, January 18, 2016 in Lexington, Ky.

Marjorie Kirk

Lexington and Kentucky residents braced single degree temperatures Monday morning as they celebrated Martin Luther King Jr. Day with the annual Freedom March through downtown Lexington.

The march was coordinated by Interim Vice President for Institutional Diversity Terry Allen, who walked beside and carried the front commemorative banner with UK President Eli Capilouto and Mayor Jim Gray.

UK and the Lexington-Fayette Urban County Government sponsored the march and the celebration that followed, which featured vocal performances by Miss Kentucky Clark Davis and a speech from actor and humanitarian Danny Glover.

Related: Actor Danny Glover calls for social justice

“This is something Transylvania does every year,” AmeriCorps VISTA member Jennifer Lancaster said. “This is just the beginning of what we’re doing for the day. It’s a way to bring us all together, go outside, do something in unity, and then come back to campus and do volunteering.”

Of the three universities that contributed, Transylvania University and Campbellsville University donated between $1,000 and $2,499, and UK donated more than $10,000.  About 100 acknowledged parties came together to put on the event.

“Transylvania kind of has a bubble around it, so it’s a great way to get students out into the community, interacting with their neighbors, with other community members and to kind of learn about what’s going on that maybe they’re not aware of because they’re stuck in that ‘Transy’ bubble,” Lancaster said.

Some elementary and middle schools, like the Sayre School in downtown, have put together opportunities for students to learn about King’s activism and march in the parade, according to Upper School Teacher and Assistant College Counselor for the Sayre School Cathy Bilberry.

“You are exposed to lots of different kinds of people who are here and you get to meet them and sing with them on the march,” Bilberry said. “(King) sent a message about peace and non-violence, but it was also about justice for everyone and fairness. My husband is African-American and my children are multi-racial, so it means a lot to me in today’s world to be able to march for those kinds of important values.” 

Students from many of Kentucky’s universities and high schools attended, including UK business management freshman Maya Gilkey who, along with her younger brother Jaylen Gilkey of Georgetown, used the occasion to reunite with old friends who had transitioned to new schools.

“I saw a lot of people who I haven’t seen in a long time, people who went to different schools than me, and so I got to see a lot of old friends,” Maya Gilkey said. “I like to see all of the diversity here. It wasn’t just African-Americans, and I like anything that incorporates everyone.”

King’s social and political advocacy was echoed in the march through members of the Black Lives Matter movement and supporters of political candidates like Bernie Sanders.

“We’re representing Black Lives Matter, the club at Bryan Station High School, and I feel like it’s important to challenge stuff that represents social injustice, starting with changing the way our culture thinks, as far as subconscious racism and institutionalized racism,” Bryan Station High School junior Nicholas Rice said, holding the Bernie Sanders campaign sign he carried during the march. “It’s really important to see a younger generation come out and march, because obviously there’s a lot of older people here, but its fresh to see a new generation of people care about racism and stuff.”