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March honors, seeks to continue work of Martin Luther King Jr.
Zaria Borders, right, and Nyny Fortson carry signs Monday afternoon during the annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day march.

With each passing year the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday takes on an urgent new meaning.

As King said, “We are now faced with the fact that tomorrow is today. We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now.”

That message resonated with young and old, men and women, black, white and Latino on Monday as an estimated 200 residents gathered in Gainesville for an annual march commemorating King’s legacy.

“A lot of people think he was just black rights,” said Wymond Bailey. “But it’s for men, women, black, white, Hispanic. We all walk equally how God created us. It’s OK to take a stand for what’s right.”

This year’s holiday theme focused on resurrecting King’s “Poor People’s Campaign” and his call for economic equality.

Ron Sheats, co-chair of the 2017 King Holiday Planning Committee, said the Gainesville and Hall County community is stepping up to make sure everyone has affordable housing and a job, and that all neighborhoods are part of local government plans for economic development.

“We’re marching on everyone’s shoulders that have bled and died … so we can have unity, equality and justice for all,” Sheats said.

From the Butler Center on Athens Street, up Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard and on to the Fair Street School, demonstrators sang, “We walk hand in hand,” “We shall overcome,” and “This little light of mine, I’m going to let it shine.”

“His message means that there is a dream, and the dream applies to everyone,” said Cristian Ramos, a student at the University of North Georgia. “That regardless of color, gender, even religion, there is some level of justice that should be the norm for everyone.”

Elementary and middle school students marched holding signs and banners that read, “I have a dream,” “Justice” and “Peace.” And residents joined the march as it passed public housing complexes and the Newtown neighborhood.

“We need to come together and work together,” said Tonya Harris Jackson, who founded the Sisters with a Purpose ministry to support young women and chaired the planning committee.

For Kenya Hunter, a student at Brenau University, the march showed her a whole new side of Gainesville and offered a sense of community she’s never felt before in the area.

“I am here to celebrate the life and legacy of Martin Luther King Jr.,” she said. “Black lives matter.”

Michelle Jones, a Democratic candidate for the state House of Representatives last year, pushed her son in a stroller as drums and shakers made sweet music behind her.

“It’s important that we keep the spirit of Martin Luther King alive more than ever,” she said.

CJ Clarke IV, the youth minister at Saint Michael Catholic Church, was also pushing his son in a stroller.

He described the march as a demonstration of love and peace in honor of King’s legacy.

“What better way to show him than by being here,” Clarke said.  

The Rev. Victor Lamar Johnson of the Veterans & Community Outreach Foundation said the holiday means the world to him.

“It’s very important to me because (King) has done so much for our country to bring all of us together,” he added. “We’re going to take it even higher.”