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Arts & Culture

San Antonio ‘Rises Up For Justice’ With Virtual MLK Celebration

Jan. 21 MLK march
Jack Morgan
/
Texas Public Radio

San Antonio has the largest Martin Luther King Jr. March in the nation according to organizers. Most years, the event draws upwards of 300,000 participants. This year was different.

The “march” was virtual this year due to COVID-19 safety concerns. In lieu of walking the traditional parade route — the 2.75 miles from the Martin Luther King, Jr. Academy to Pittman-Sullivan Park — organizers honored the late Rev. King through events held on virtual platforms. It was broadcasted at 10 a.m. on TV and online via the city’s government access channel TVSA.

The two-hour event was called "The Dream Continues, Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow." It is the largest local event to be canceled so far in 2021.

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Yesenia Morin
“It Takes All of Us” by 11-year-old Yesenia Morin was selected as the official artwork for the 2021 Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Commemorative Virtual March.

District 2 Councilwoman Jada Andrews-Sullivan said the theme for the march is rising up for justice.

“And we as a city council have been doing that throughout this pandemic, throughout this racial uprising and throughout all of the challenges that 2020 has brought to us. In 2021, you will see the MLK March in a way that you’ve ever thought,” Andrews-Sullivan said.

Former San Antonio council member Mario Marcel Salas said the virtual march is a way to demonstrate Dr. King's stand for social justice.

"Social justice must be addressed whether its Black Lives Matter, whether its jobs, whether it's helping poor people, those are the social issues that must remain in the forefront," he said.

San Antonio held its first official MLK March in 1987, but the march’s history begins before that. Rev. Dr. Raymond Callies, a local teacher and pastor, organized the first unofficial march in 1968, calling attention to the lack of basic infrastructure on the city’s East Side.

“He came to me and he said, ‘We want to do something larger,’ and it just made all the sense in the world to me,” said then-mayor Henry Cisneros during the city’s 2021 MLK broadcast.

“We’ve come from Dr. Callies and a band of about six followers to 100,000 people every Martin Luther King Day,” Cisneros said. “I’ve often asked myself, and I’m often asked, why San Antonio?”

San Antonio’s Black community makes up just around 7% of the city’s total population, Cisneros said.

“San Antonio is a city that is dedicated to civil rights and progressive causes. We see that time and again,” Cisneros said. “(The city) has a strong relationship, has learned from San Antonio’s African American community. It’s a long history of great contributions and great leadership and great sacrifices, and the community appreciates that and wants to be associated with Dr. Martin Luther King Day on the East Side of San Antonio.”

The 2021 event follows a summer of marches and protests against racial injustice seen across the country and in San Antonio.

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