It seemed inevitable the two Martin Luther King Jr. Day marches would collide.
On Monday, when Black Lives Matter-Sacramento protesters began passing by the Sacramento Convention Center, where a larger, city- and law enforcement-sponsored march had just concluded, Sam Starks wasn’t certain how to proceed.
Many in the growing crowd called for BLM-Sacramento founder Tanya Faison to take center stage on the flatbed truck where Starks, executive director of Sacramento MLK365, which organized the annual March for the Dream, stood, mic in hand.
Finally, he acquiesced.
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“In the spirit of love and unity I am tired of fighting for what is the same dance,” Starks told the restless crowd. “We might dance differently but we got the same song and that song is love and justice and freedom for everybody.
“That’s the song and we have to listen, so my sister come on,” he said, with an open hand.
It was a brief moment of solidarity between two contrasting, peaceful rallies Monday morning, with people flooding the streets of Sacramento to celebrate and reflect on the legacy — and unfinished work — of Martin Luther King Jr.
As the annual 3-mile March for the Dream started early in the morning at Sacramento City College, a smaller group filled the Alhambra Safeway parking lot in East Sacramento for the Black Lives Matter protest, which was headed to the Capitol building in an alternative to the larger city-sponsored event.
A third event, hosted by the Roberts Family Development Center, took place at the Grant High School auditorium, and included a march looping through Del Paso Heights and North Sacramento.
For Dee Dee Walsh, an Oak Park resident who has been attending the March for the Dream for the last five years, the event takes on a new meaning in the era of President Donald Trump.
Trump’s desire to build a wall along the southern border to keep out Mexican immigrants is rooted in racism, Walsh said. His presidency has also emboldened white supremacists, she said, such as those who participated in the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Va., in 2017.
“At one time, we could suppress the racism and now it’s coming back up again,” said Walsh, 53.
Her group arrived at the Convention Center about 11:15 a.m., where MLK365, which touts itself as the organizers behind Northern California’s largest MLK march, hosted its annual Diversity Expo.
Outside, Sacramento Police Chief Daniel Hahn could hardly walk 2 feet without someone asking him to be in their photo or selfie.
“I’ve been doing this for years,” Hahn said. “I just think it’s one of those days where everybody comes together, no matter where they live, no matter who they are, no matter what they believe in. It’s just a glimpse of kind of what we could do if we work together and continue doing that every day of the year.”
The Sacramento Police Department and the Sacramento County Sheriff’s Department are both listed as sponsors of the March for the Dream — a fact that Black Lives Matter-Sacramento organizers say taints the meaning of any MLK Jr. march, given a number of recent officer-involved fatal shootings and in-custody deaths of black men in Sacramento.
“We will not be aligned with any other marches/events sponsored by the very law enforcement entities that are killing us in the street every three months,” reads the Black Lives Matter-Sacramento event page. “Instead we march as, and with, the people!”
Standing on top of the flatbed truck, Faison warned the massive crowd outside the Convention Center that the city has begun preparing for the results of the District Attorney’s Office review of the Stephon Clark shooting — and a determination of whether the office will file charges against involved officers — which officials believe is set to be released soon.
“We haven’t even had a chance to fight yet and they’re already trying to control the narrative,” Faison said of a proposed ordinance banning certain items at protests. “We’re gonna need this kind of unity when that moment comes. We’re gonna need everybody in the streets when this moment comes.”
Others, however, credited law enforcement.
Sacramento resident Ismael Diop, a participant in the March for the Dream, said he appreciated how the Sacramento Police Department participated in the march and how it shut down streets and diverted traffic to keep marchers safe. “There’s no real aggression to anyone in this march,” Diop, 15, said. “It teaches my (4-year-old) little sister the police are good people so she doesn’t have any bad thoughts about them.”
Georgia Russell, a Sacramento native who returned to California last year, said the Black Lives Matter-Sacramento march was the first rally she’s ever been to.
“It’s important that we highlight his message and purpose,” Russell said of MLK. “There will be no stifling of culture. What makes our country great is we’re all part of this puzzle” of diverse experiences, she added.
For many attendees, the family-friendly rallies served as teachable moments.
Terri Cofield of Suisun City decided to come to the day’s march with her son A’mare James, 5, mother Shulanda Jones and aunt Diane Bluitt.
“My son is a black boy,” she said. Given the frequent news of police brutality and black men and women facing discrimination, conversations about race and racism are unavoidable but also welcome in her household, she said.
“What do you tell yourself in the mirror every morning?” she asked A’mare.
“I’m smart, and I can be anything I want to be,” he replied.