Dueling groups kicked off Denver’s 35th annual Martin Luther King Jr. Marade — half march, half parade — on Monday. Both groups aimed to honor the civil rights hero’s legacy, but they went about it in two distinct ways.
The official commemoration, held by the MLK Colorado Holiday Commission, featured the typical lineup of politicians, religious leaders and singers amping up a crowd of about 1,000 at City Park. A slate of leaders including Gov. Jared Polis and Mayor Michael Hancock spoke generally about what King would want for today’s United States: fairness and equity for all, wrought through legislation, and intolerance for discrimination.
“Today as we leave this platform, let’s go with a purpose for the 3-year-old who’s in this audience today. March for the homeless man who’s in City Park today,” Hancock said, projecting like a preacher into the crowd. “March for the woman who is concerned about her job and afraid to speak up when she been passed over time and time again for promotion.”
About 50 yards away, about 100 people sang, chanted and listened to speakers demand an end to Denver’s urban camping ban during a protest event held by Colorado Poor People’s Campaign and Black Live Matters 5280. The ban, enforced by the Hancock administration despite a local judge declaring it unconstitutional, prohibits eating, sleeping or storing belongings while sheltering in public with tents, tarps or blankets.
Apryl Alexander showed up in a “Black Lives Matter” sweatshirt to support activists aiming to repeal the camping ban. She called the state-sponsored event “performative.”
“It does us a disservice to be thinking about how we are celebrating his legacy but displacing our unhoused people at the same time,” Alexander said. “It’s performative that we’re sitting here trying to celebrate his legacy but we’re not doing the actions that his legacy represented.”
Protesters want more than a repeal of the camping ban. They also want the city government to drop its appeal to the judge’s ruling.
Not everyone found the two events mutually exclusive. While some people from the protest event said they would not march down East Colfax Avenue with the expected crowd of 30,000, others floated between the two events and said they would join the march to honor King.
Hancock didn’t address the speakers from Black Lives Matter and the Poor People’s Campaign from the stage. But his spokesman told Denverite last week that advocating for causes people believe in is “keeping with the spirit of the day.”
Thomas Bouknight came to the annual Marade from Houston. He said King’s message that hate is too heavy a burden to bear resonates with him.
“As you can tell there’s a very diverse group of people here, and it’s an opportunity for us all in one voice to speak loudly that today is a day that love out-trumps hate,” Bouknight said.
Debora Luckett of Denver agreed. She said she’s been participating in the march since it started 35 years ago.
“I think the legacy is so powerful and our young people need to know the impact that Dr. King had on the lives of so many people,” she said. “I like his message because he gives you hope. And the hope is that one day we’ll all be treated fairly and equitably and we can live in harmony.”
Nicklos White of Denver has also marched every year. He said he met King when he spoke at New Hope Baptist Church in the 60s.
“So I’m one of the old-timers and I enjoy coming every year,” White said. “He’s done a lot for every community.”