MLK Celebration Looks to Past, Future | Tech Parks Arizona
   The University of Arizona

MLK Celebration Looks to Past, Future

Hannah Gaber
​Arizona Daily Star
January 18, 2016



Cloudy skies begin to clear as marchers from the 31st MLK Day Walk trickle into Reid Park Monday morning.

People sit on blankets, talk in small groups or mill around with dogs and strollers. The words of Martin Luther King’s iconic “I Have a Dream” speech float from the loudspeakers.

Signs reading “Jobs Not War” and “Black Lives Matter” are mixed with posters for political candidates and local church groups. Food stands and information booths ring the area.

Alicia Kirkland, 50, in gloves and a hat, holds a large photo of King. She says this is her 24th year walking in Tucson, but her family’s legacy began when her mother marched with King in Mississippi, where she’s from.

“She was pregnant with my brother at the time, and they started throwing rocks.” Kirkland says. “She had to turn around.”

Kirkland said the racially diverse crowd that completed Monday’s 3-mile walk together was a tribute to King’s vision.

She is interrupted by a hug from Irma Jeanisse, 61. Jeanisse is a great-grandmother, born in Tucson, who says she marched in the city’s first MLK Walk. The women stand holding hands as Jeanisse reflects on changing social tides.

“There was a diner where the Circle K is now that said ‘For whites only,’” Jeanisse says. “It was there until the ’80s. Racism is still alive. We have an MLK street now that goes nowhere.”

Nobel Way, in the UA Tech Park at the Bridges, was renamed ML King Jr. Way just that morning, ending Tucson’s run on the list of cities in the nation without a street named for the civil-rights leader.

“But look at how far we’ve come,” Kirkland says.

“Look at what they’re building.” Kirkland is referring to plans for developing the swath of land west of ML King Jr. Way that includes homes, restaurants and entertainment venues. “That street is going to lead to hope.

“They didn’t build a dead-end street; that street is opening up that community.”

As the sun comes out, speakers take the stage, including longtime MLK festival coordinator Donna Liggins.

“I don’t want you to leave here today and forget about what Dr. King stands for,” Liggins says. “Let’s not just make this a one day thing ... As you leave this park today, think about something that you can do for somebody else, or we can do as a whole together.”

On top of a small hill, Daniel Cassidy, 27, stands holding a “Black Lives Matter” sign next to Nathaniel Dewees, 62. The men grin and chat comfortably together, saying they only just met.

“I was saying earlier to Nathaniel, I feel weird that people keep taking my picture, because I feel like everybody should have this sign,” says Cassidy, who is white.

“It’s not like, you know, I’m just a white guy here carrying this sign.”

Cassidy is also Muslim, and a Universalist seminary student in Chicago. “I’m real big on promoting tolerance and building bridges across communities,” he says.

“I think that Tucson is a little center of reason and sanity in a state that has a lot of growing still to do. But there’s a lot of good people here, and there’s a lot of good people everywhere.”

Congresswoman Martha McSally also speaks from the stage.

She congratulated Tucson on becoming the “731st town to finally name one of our roads Martin Luther King Jr. Way.”

“It’s a wonderful tribute at the Bridges as we honor Dr. King today, thinking about what he did in the past, and the UA Tech Park representing what we can do in the future,” McSally says.

“I think there’s a lot of things that still need to be done,” Liggins said in an interview earlier this week. “I always have hope that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s dream comes true ... that we all come together as a people.

“It may never be completed, but that’s the hope. Without hope, there’s no need for the dream.

“We always got to hold on to hope.”



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