In 1963, Mel DeGree, 24 years old at the time, took a train down from New York City to be a part of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s march on Washington, D.C.
DeGree remembers his train was full of fellow marchers who sang songs together for the entire ride. He remembers being surrounded by 200,000 people as King gave his "I have a dream" speech from the steps of the Lincoln Monument. Although he was far away from the steps and he could barely see King, DeGree said it was one of the most memorable days of his life.
"It’s hard to understand how things change so much, so quickly," DeGree said. "I can understand how kids think things have always been this way. But things don’t just happen. Somebody has to make a change."
Delaina Martinez, a school psychologist from Reston, joined her father, DeGree, at the march.
"The kids in the classes I’ve worked with don’t even realize why people would treat others differently," Martinez said.
Last Sunday, DeGree and Martinez marched with around 100 other Reston residents in commemoration of King’s life. The procession, Reston’s 17th annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day March, started at the Reston Community Center Lake Anne and ended at the Northern Virginia Hebrew Congregation. There the marchers gathered for a gospel concert. On Monday, the celebration continued with an all-day ceremony at the Reston Community Center Hunters Woods.
Gilberto Amaya, who co-chaired the celebration committee with Adelle Jones, said this year’s organizers tried to highlight the impact of the civil rights movement on countries other than the United States.
"For example, there was a group of indigenous people in Honduras who led a march in 1996, to the capital city," Amaya said. "They reclaimed their ancestral lands by just walking with drums, singing and dancing. In other countries Dr. King is not viewed as a leader in the U.S., but as a global leader."
<bt>Reston’s annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day Celebration was founded 17 years ago by Delores Wilkins, who developed a partnership with the Reston Community Center. Tom Wilkins, Delores’ husband, was at Sunday’s march.
"In recent years we’ve had some dynamic people to serve as chairs of the celebration," said Wilkins. "So the numbers have begun to expand. And the scope has gotten larger. The whole diversity of the population, the business community and the churches are now getting involved."
Rodney Scott, from Martin Luther King Jr. Christian Church, helped organize this year’s ceremonies. He said celebrating Martin Luther King Jr. Day is important to teach children their history and to remind adults of their past.
"Freedom is not free," Scott said. "McDonalds has not always been open. Now there is the Holiday Inn, or the Hyatt. But it used to be that we would drive all day to find someplace to stay. That was not so long ago. That was just a few years ago."
Herndon resident Jeffrey Thigpen, a youth minister at Heritage Church, attended the march with his 10-year-old twin boys Tavish and Terrell. He said he wanted to show his sons that it is important to stand up against injustice. Thigpen also mentioned that Martin Luther King Jr. is one of his personal heroes.
"Last night I was reading the words of Martin Luther King Jr. at my job," said Thigpen at Sunday’s march. "I have a little booklet, a handout I got when I went to visit his home. His wife, Coretta Scott King, wrote the booklet and it has passages from his speeches. I carry the booklet wherever I go. I always read it whenever I get discouraged."
Wilkins said that King’s words, even though they were spoken more than 30 years ago, are still relevant today.
"He had a message for everybody, not just the black community," said Wilkins.
Gradison Jones, a member of Washington Plaza Baptist Church, spoke before the crowd of marchers just before they left for the Northern Virginia Hebrew Congregation. Jones applied the teachings of Martin Luther King Jr. to present-day problems.
"I think if Martin Luther King Jr. was alive today," said Jones, "One thing that would dismay him would be the way some people have treated Muslims. All faiths have fanatics. People get removed from the search for God and look to become something bigger and better."