Not only were the participants marching in support of Martin Luther King Jr.’s message of equality for all in the Jan. 21 MLK Day March in Prescott. Five young men marched in support of their wrestling coach.
Bradshaw Mountain Middle School wrestling Coach Robert Shegog opened up the option to his team to participate in the march. This is the third year he has been a par t of the event, and he wanted his students to understand the need for community service.
“When you’re born, there is no guarantee that you’ll be physically or mentally right. They were blessed able to wrestle, so they need to give back,” Shegog said, adding that it was not a requirement to attend.
“I am so proud of them,” he said, referring to Tony Walters, Patrick Eyler, Braden Shumaker, Rex Shumaker and Carlton Haines, the five wrestlers who showed up from Mayer and Prescott Valley. They mentioned Shegog’s support and the time he has given to the team.
“We’re here because of how much coach has done for us,” Eyler said. “I was a beginner and I was going to quit. He helped me through the season so I could finish.”
Several hundred participants marched in light rain and a chill wind with signs and banners calling for peace, justice and equality for all people.
Toward the end of the marchers’ route, as they turned onto the church property, the Bradshaw Mountain High School drumline triggered some dancing in the street.
About 400 people of all ages and races filled the church to hear two keynote speakers and the inspiring St. Luke’s Ebony Church choir. Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech led off the presentation, drawing rousing applause.
Prescott Vice Mayor Billie Orr read the city’s MLK Day of Service Proclamation, which ended with “We are keeping Martin Luther King’s dream for a better future alive.” Four local high school students read stirring passages from Dr. King’s words.
First keynote speaker Kendra Hobson from St. Luke’s Ebony Church reminded people that for some, it feels like just yesterday they endured being pulled over, followed, stopped and harassed on a regular basis. She encouraged people to overcome apathy and get involved.
“Let us in the Tri Cities, Yavapai County, and Arizona lead the way in showing love in changing the current course we are on today,” Hobson said.
She acknowledged a small program on white privilege offered in Prescott last year, saying much more is needed. “We have more in common than we have in difference. We have to dare to allow ourselves to believe it.”
Hobson’s message included her experience when going outside the four walls of her home and seeing other African-American people in places like grocery stores.
“When you see someone who looks like you, it’s comforting,” she said. “If we don’t feel accepted, we won’t feel comfort. We cannot strive for unity and continue to self-segregate.”
Both she and the second speaker, Brittini Ward, received standing ovations from the audience following their speeches.
Ward, who hails from Detroit, came to Prescott to earn a master’s degree from Prescott College. She reminded people that Arizona was the last state to recognize Martin Luther King, Jr. Day as a holiday in 1993 and did so only because of a threatened boycott from the Super Bowl committee. Now, 24 years later, the East Valley Chapter NAACP considered a call to boycott Prescott because of comments made by Rep. David Stringer.
This year’s theme, “Don’t Sleep through the Revolution,” is a call to make Prescott a better place to live, and to make a stand against racism and bigotry. To make this, for everyone, their hometown, Prescott needs to be more inclusive to the ever-growing population of black and brown people, Ward said.
Sarah Haber, AmeriCorps member through Prescott College’s Arizona Serve, organized several opportunities for volunteers to participate in service projects. More than 100 volunteers had signed up, she said.