Valley schools celebrate MLK Day at West campus

ASU’s West campus hosted its 20th annual “March on West” Wednesday, celebrating both the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. and Arizona’s decision to make MLK Day a state holiday.

About 1,100 elementary and middle school students came out for the event, an ASU spokesman said.

This is the largest number of students in attendance since 1997, when the West campus began inviting students from 10 different schools across the Valley to attend the march. Last year around 200 students attended.

At the march, students gathered in the La Sala Ballrooms to learn about the events leading up to Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream.”

Professor Akua Anokye helped reenact the Rosa Parks bus protest and taught the students some civil rights freedom songs.

Anokye, who has participated in the event for more than 10 years, said she wants students to know that change starts within by getting them to identify specific instances in their lives where they can make the change.

“I want to let them understand what the march in 1963 means, and what the words meant and how we are still trying to embody that dream,” Anokye said.

Video by Kelly Byerley and Jordy Pena.

One eighth-grade student from North Phoenix’s Norterra Canyon Elementary considers Martin Luther King Jr. and Rosa Parks his heroes, and gained awareness about the harshness of the time period.

“Hatred against African Americans in the ‘50s and ‘60s was much more cruel than I thought,” student Michael Stchissel said.

After learning about the historical events leading up to the speech, students made signs, including “No more hate” and “All men are created equal,” before marching around campus.

The drum line from Glendale’s Independence High School’s led the march, chanting the freedom song “We Shall Overcome.”

The march ended on Fletcher Lawn, where professor Charles St. Clair read Martin Luther King Jr.’s speech from a podium overlooking the students standing with their signs.

St. Clair has reenacted the MLK speech since the event began in 1991. MLK Day was officially made a state holiday in 1992, but the event started a year earlier to show support for creating a holiday.

St. Clair is quick to point out that he doesn’t memorize the speech.

“I only try to evoke the spirit and passion of the event,” said St. Clair.

He said he continues to do the speech for the kids.

“I would like to inspire them,” St. Clair said. “Hopefully they’ll be inspired to ride along [and] to understand injustice and what injustice is. If we are to be a nation of harmony, it’s going to be created by the kids.”

He said people need to promote tolerance and acceptance of different cultures and traditions in order to continue Martin Luther King Jr.’s legacy.

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