Tonight, I, my classmates, and people in my town participated in a candlelight march around town in honor of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day.
There was chatting, some singing, some hand-shaking and meeting of new people. Many pictures were taken with phones and many candles were blown out only to be re-lit from a neighbor's. It was a relaxed atmosphere.
We had a police escort.
Let me reiterate: we had a police escort. We felt safe and relaxed walking down the streets of town. No one made threats or shouted rude comments or even so much as honked their horns because of blocked traffic. It just made me realize how lucky we are.
In King's day, the police didn't show up at marches to escort people. They weren't there to make people feel safe, but to make them feel afraid. To beat, discourage, shame, abuse, arrest, and silence them.
It didn't work.
It didn't work, and in 2014, here we all are walking down the streets of a Southern town with the police to escort us safely.
In King's day, the marches weren't relaxed. Or safe. They weren't something you did because you were required to go for class. People who showed up to these marches knew that they could be harassed, arrested, and abused.
They did it anyway.
They did it anyway, and in 2014 a group of people of different races chatted and sang and made new acquaintances as we marched in their honor.
Martin Luther King Jr. Day isn't just about one man. It was about all the people who marched, protested, and refused to be silent in their demands for human rights and equality under the law.
Today is not just about the past, either. It's about right now, about us and the problems we still face. It's about appreciating the changes King made while refusing to ignore the changes we need to make. It's about realizing that the fact that we had a respectful police escort to make us feel safe is still amazing, and for many, sadly unusual.