Bowling Green celebrates Martin Luther King Jr. Day with march to honor his legacy

Folks march from Warren County Justice Center to the State Street Baptist Church to commemorate Dr. Martin Luther King Jan. 21 in Bowling Green.

Nicole Ziege

Bundled in thick coats, scarves and gloves, Bowling Green community members gathered in front of the Warren County Justice Center for the city’s 21st annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day Celebration.

The event included a march from the Warren County Justice Center to State Street Baptist Church at 10 a.m. and a commemorative ceremony to honor King at the church at 11 a.m. About 60-70 people took part in the march.

Some people in the march carried signs featuring quotes from King. Others carried signs representing the Bowling Green Martin Luther King Jr. Planning Committee, the event’s sponsor, and the Bowling Green chapter of the NAACP, the nation’s oldest civil rights organization. Several community members wore blankets and held cups of coffee to keep warm as temperatures dropped to nearly 17 degrees.

Ryan Dearbone, MLK Planning Committee president and Bowling Green native, said this was the fourth or fifth year he had taken part in the march. He said he expected between 50-to-150 people from the community to attend.

Dearbone said marching on Martin Luther King Jr. Day was meant to honor and show solidarity with him and other civil rights leaders who marched in worse conditions and risked their lives.

“We continue the march because it’s a chance to honor Dr. King and his legacy and the dream that’s still unfulfilled, but it’s also a chance to bring the community together,” Dearbone said.

In 1983, Martin Luther King Jr. Day was declared a federal holiday on the third Monday of January in order to commemorate the birthday of Reverend Martin Luther King Jr., a prominent figure in the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 1960s, according tothe Corporation for National & Community Service.

Nashville native Kelexus Sullivan, 21, is a WKU student and part of the Black Student Alliance (BSA) at WKU. She attended the march with Dearbone, who is a mentor for WKU’s BSA. She described the legacy of King as remarkable and memorable.

“It helped set precedence for our people,” Sullivan said. “We’re ways ahead from when he started, but we have ways to go.” 

Bowling Green native Mark Day, 50, said he attended the march in order to continue the legacy and dream of King.

“Everybody should be treated equally, no matter the color of their skin,” Day said.

State and city officials attended the march, including Kentucky state Rep. Patti Minter and Bowling Green City Commissioners Brian “Slim” Nash and Dana Beasley-Brown.

Beasley-Brown said attending the march was an annual tradition for her and her family.

“I think it’s important that we suffer through the cold and be committed to working toward Martin Luther King’s legacy,” Beasley-Brown said.

Following the march, a commemoration ceremony took place at State Street Baptist Church and featured performances from the Housing Authority of Bowling Green Learning Center Chorale, the Bowling Green High School Bellissima Choir and Selia Helm. The keynote speaker for the event was Stacy Spencer, senior pastor at New Direction Christian Church.

In an impassioned speech, Spencer spoke about his desire for an end to racism, sexism and xenophobia. He discussed how the lives of minorities in America were being negatively affected by the lack of living wages, the lack of food security, the increased rates of poverty and the increased sentences of black men for non-violent drug offenses in prisons. As he spoke, the crowd broke out into applause on multiple occasions.

In order to continue King’s legacy, Spencer called on all people of all races, ethnicities, genders and backgrounds to come together and see their similarities, rather than their differences.

“If we ever realize that we are more closely related than separate, we can turn this country and make America great again,” Spencer said.

Nicole Ziege can be reached at 270-745-6011 and [email protected]. Follow Nicole Ziege on Twitter at @NicoleZiege.