Hundreds March in Anacostia€s Annual Peace Walk

Leah C. Taylor | 1/20/2010, 12:11 p.m.

King€s Legacy Lives, East of the River

Hundreds showed up to walk more than a dozen blocks in honor of a man who preached peace and non-violence, but who also believed in civil disobedience.

Four hundred people gathered on a church lot in historic Anacostia in Southeast and set-out on a two-mile trek through the streets to commemorate the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., during the Fourth Annual MLK Peace Walk, Mon., Jan. 18. This year€s walk attracted one of the largest crowds since its inception three years ago, organizers said.

King represents peace.

€One murder, one violent crime is too many. We as a community need to work to provide more opportunities for young people to get out of the conditions that many of them find themselves,€ said Clark Ray.

Ray, 46, the former director of the D.C. Department of Parks and Recreation and an Arkansas native, joined in the Peace Walk to pay homage to King€s legacy and to show his support for the East of the River community.

€Whether it€s education or workforce development, we need to show there are more options than the street life,€ he said.

Chinese drummers from the Chinatown Community Cultural Center in Northwest led the procession under sunny skies and on an unseasonably warm winter€s day. The spirited crowd carried banners and bullhorns down Martin Luther King, Jr., Avenue from Bethlehem Baptist Church to Covenant Baptist Church on South Capitol Street.

Passersby clapped, while residents and business owners along the corridor shouted words of encouragement to the marchers from second-and-third-story windows, store fronts, porches and sidewalk curbs. The first Peace Walk was held in 2007 after Council member Marion Barry (D-Ward 8), officially changed the date of the District€s annual Martin Luther King, Jr., Day Parade from January to April. Organizers said that it was important to recognize King on the federally observed holiday.

€This is really just about the walk -- to recognize Dr. King on this day -- on this street which was named in his honor,€ said Denise Rolark Barnes, publisher of the 45-year-old Washington Informer Newspaper, a mainstay in the Southeast community, and one of the event organizers.

The campaign for a federal holiday in King€s honor began soon after his assassination in 1968. Led by Reps. John Conyers (D-Mich.) and the late Shirley Chisholm (D-N.Y.), President Ronald W. Reagan signed the holiday into law in 1983. The federal holiday was officially observed by all 50 states in 2000.

The rambunctious crowd, a hodgepodge of young and old -- men, women and children from all ethnic backgrounds and parts of the city participated for different reasons.
€Martin Luther King, Jr., was one of the first street advocates who worked at the grassroots level,€ said Calvin Woodland, Jr., chief of staff for Ward One Council member Jim Graham.
€We have to continue this part of his legacy especially with so many issues to address in this community,€ he said.

Others paused for a moment to remember King€s vision.

€The walk symbolizes that [Dr. King€s] dream is still alive,€ said Antoniese Starks, a 29-year- old Southeast resident who works for Peaceoholics, a nonprofit organization based in Southeast.

€We are still fighting for our rights, equality and peace in the community. This walk is important because it makes people aware and shows that there is still hope and, there are people who actually care,€ she said.

The crowd remained optimistic throughout the event, but everyday realities soon kicked in -- the recent devastation in Haiti and the ongoing economic crisis that has resulted in an unprecedented loss of jobs, especially in the Black community €" weighed heavily on the minds of some participants.

€I don€t think too much has changed,€ said Mike Whren, 52, a Southeast resident who was recently laid off from his job as a contractor. €We are still fighting for jobs and fighting to eat,€ he said.