SPRINGFIELD — A crowd of more than 100 community members marched in remembrance of Martin Luther King Jr. on Monday morning, starting at the Springfield Justice Center and concluding at Springfield High School for an indoor presentation. This year’s theme was “celebrating strength through challenging times.”
“Today is a celebration, it’s an opportunity to reflect. And it really does take a lot of courage to stand up during a difficult time,” said Sean VanGordon, Springfield mayor. “We’re here to honor Dr. King’s important legacy. His words remain timeless and always relevant to what we do every single day.”
The 25th annual city-sponsored march led families, students, and community members to SHS, where a celebration showcased achievements and talents of students who participated in art and speechwriting competitions.
Scott Crowell, humanities teacher at the Academy of Art and Academics (A3), was a key organizer. For him, celebrating MLK’s legacy goes beyond work in the classroom.
“Living Dr. King’s message and bringing those into the classroom is an important aspect of being a teacher,” Crowell said. “The way we’re going to make a difference in this world is by making sure people understand compassion goes a long way.”
His student, Rowan Chambers, was happy to spend his day off from school celebrating Dr. King’s legacy.
“I’ve been learning about MLK for a long time,” Chambers said. “But now, I’m really starting to understand the meaning of what he was trying to do and what he was making happen.”
On campus, SHS principal José de Silva kicked off the indoor presentation with a heartfelt message to the speechwriting competition winners and community advocates in the crowd.
“The kind of love that Dr. King talked about is fundamentally connected to power appropriately used, encouraged to speak up for justice. In that spirit we will be sharing with you a powerful lineup of presenters to remind us of our shared humanity, and commitment to each other,” de Silva said.
The family-friendly event also hosted the Two-Rivers-Dos Rios Elementary “Rockin’ Otters,” who sang “Lean on Me,” accompanied by Amy Danzinger on guitar and audience members on backup vocals.
Milo Montgomery, Luiz Cruz and Zucy Calixto Pena were keynote speakers at the celebration — and each presenter spoke to a different struggle they experience personally, advocating for change within their community through honest and heartfelt speeches.
Calixto Pena spoke to the negative stereotypes she encounters as a young mother fighting for the ability to stay in school. “All women have to work to achieve what we want,” she said. “It is an injustice to try to prevent young mothers from having the opportunity to stay in school, and we need to do more to support them.”
Cruz gave an impassioned speech about the U.S. Government’s immigration policies and the difficulties faced by Dreamers across the nation. “I have a dream and all I want is the opportunity to make my dreams come true along with everyone else’s,” he said. “We have to overcome it and I believe that we can make it out. The government has created a system that works perfectly for those it was created for. This system needs to be accessible to those who want to try to help themselves. We are the future.”
Contest winner Montgomery challenged broad and harmful narratives about transgender individuals and violence toward LGBTQ+ people.
“I am only 15 and the queer community is so accepting to me,” he said. “It’s not hard to be respectful; stop the usage of slurs and be accepting of people. We shouldn’t be isolated, but welcomed with open arms.”
Also in attendance was Dolly Marshall, 93, who recalled protesting the night Dr. King was assassinated. She’s a proud grandmother of BIPOC youth, who are also making waves in their community, just like she did.
“It’s sometimes depressing the things that still are happening,” she said. “But it’s hopeful to see so many young people here today.”
The event was organized by Springfield Alliance for Equity and Respect (SAfER, which is a program of Community Alliance of Lane County or CALC), with co-sponsorship from Springfield Public Schools, the City of Springfield, its police department, Willamalane Parks and Recreation District, Springfield Education Foundation, Papa’s Pizza, Lane County Commissioner Heather Buch, former Commissioner Joe Berney, Oregon Community Credit Union, SELCO, and the Springfield Education Association.