Tacoma Mayor Marilyn Strickland said she wasn’t trying to get cheap applause Monday when she invoked the Seattle Seahawks at the city’s annual Martin Luther King Birthday, Jr. celebration.
But she did draw one of the loudest bursts of enthusiasm when she made a point using the Seahawks’ surprising come-from-behind victory Sunday in the NFC Championship Game.
Strickland listed the names of players who performed poorly in the first half but then redeemed themselves before it was too late.
“You know what? They messed up,” Strickland said. “They’re not perfect. But they believed in themselves, they believed in each other, they fought hard, and they won.”
As the crowd cheered again, she spoke of how the fans stood behind these athletes when they were struggling.
“I want us to treat the young men of color in our community as our home team,” she said. “They may falter, they may make mistakes, but we need to stand behind them with as much passion and enthusiasm as we stand behind the Seattle Seahawks.”
A crowd of more than 2,000 people gathered Monday at the Greater Tacoma Convention & Trade Center for Tacoma’s 27th Martin Luther King Day celebration. Some came to the event in a solidarity march that started at the nearby Bates Technical College campus.
The event included impassioned words from politicians, singing by students and a choir, and a performance by artists depicting several days in the life of the slain civil rights leader.
“We’re not Ferguson, but we’re not perfect,” keynote speaker MelannieDenise Cunningham said, as she urged the crowd to help lead a “revolution of consciousness.”
She also encouraged them to step outside their comfort zones and mix with people who are different from themselves.
“If everybody on your Facebook page looks like you, you’ve got some work to do,” said Cunningham, Pacific Lutheran University’s director of multicultural recruitment.
U.S. Sen. Patty Murray also spoke, and she summoned the memory of violent clashes last year that claimed the lives of unarmed citizens and police officers.
“Today, we still face challenges,” the Democratic leader said. “The events of Ferguson and New York last year were a tragedy. And it underscored the reality that inequality still persists for too many Americans.”
Murray said resources must be dedicated to expanding educational opportunities and she urged people to serve in their communities.
“Everybody can be great because everybody can serve,’” Murray said, quoting a King speech. “Let’s take Dr. King up on that challenge for greatness.”
Pierce County Executive Pat McCarthy and South Sound Democratic congressmen Denny Heck and Derek Kilmer were also among the politicians who spoke.
Many in the crowd seemed especially moved by a performance of “Eleven Days in the Life of Dr. King” by performers affiliated with the Broadway Center for the Performing Arts.
The half-hour performance used video, dance, music, spoken word and shadow play. It covered smaller moments in King’s life, such as in his childhood when he learned he could no longer play with his white friends, to big events such as the March on Washington in 1963, his Nobel Peace Prize in 1964 and his assassination in 1968.
During a scene depicting the Freedom Riders, the civil rights activists who were attacked while riding in buses in protest of segregation in the Deep South, a man stood, clapped and whooped his approval.
Beforehand, Tacoma poet laureate Lucas Smiraldo, who wrote the “Eleven Days” piece, pointed out to the crowd that the performance would show only 10 days in King’s life; the 11th day, he said, is today.
“What have we learned? How can we keep justice alive?” Smiraldo said.
It was a sentiment Heck later reiterated.
“I don’t know about 11 days, but … what are the two most important days in each of our lives?” he said. “The day we were born and the day we figure out why.”