People began trickling in around 8 a.m. Two hours later, people poured into Dunbar High School’s football stadium, the line to pass through security extending around the block.
The atmosphere was charged with passion; be it hope, anger, frustration or peace. Some, including Rosalind Lewis and Leonora Thompson from Westchester County, N.Y., came to get a sense of today’s political climate.
They called President Obama’s inauguration a missed opportunity to bring the nation together. Both Lewis and Thompson believe there are two Americas.
“It’s merely divided by race. I mean that’s really it. People don’t want to admit it, but it is,” Lewis said.
Equity was the word Saturday; educational equity, economic equity and equal representation for Washington, D.C., residents. George Leonard, CEO of Friends of Bedford, which runs Dunbar High, spoke of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s dream as an equal playing field for all people.
“We will show America today that not only are black students as great as anyone, but if you give us a chance, we will outdo everyone,” Leonard said. “And with that being said, we are going to reclaim the dream.”
Equity was a cornerstone of King’s message. Forty-seven years ago today, King preached that message during his March on Washington in 1963. On the steps of the Lincoln Memorial he delivered his “I Have A Dream” speech.
“I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal.’” These are just a few of the words spoken by King in 1963, and the sentiment was echoed by Saturday’s speakers and marchers alike.
For people like Melvin Maxwell, today was a rite of passage. Maxwell said he took part in King’s 1963 march, and came Saturday to inspire future generations.
“I am passing the baton on from myself to my sons, and to anyone who will stop and listen to what I experienced.” He is here to pass the dream on to the next generation, because “that’s the only way it’s gonna work. If you keep your head in the sand, it will never get better.”
Speaking to the gathered masses, the Rev. Al Sharpton acknowledged the progress made toward equality in America, but said much work remained.
“We come because the dream has not been achieved, we are not there yet,” Sharpton said.
Sharpton, as well as other speakers and marchers, mentioned the Restoring Honor rally, an event sponsored by Glenn Beck and held simultaneously on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. In the build-up to Saturday, there was speculation that confrontations between the two rallies’ marchers would occur. None materialized.
For those marching behind Sharpton, Saturday was about the dream, not what was being said only a few miles away.
“They may have the mall, but we have the message,” Sharpton said. “They may have the platform, but we have the dream.”
-Photos and reporting by Rachel Boehm, Aisha Chowdhry, Konstantin Vengerowsky and Khari Williams