Rising to the Occasion

Members of the Eugene-Springfield community march in honor of Martin Luther King Jr.

By Erin Turner

For the 32nd consecutive year, community members convened outside of the University of Oregon’s PK Park for the Martin Luther King Jr. Day March hosted by the Eugene-Springfield NAACP.

Eric Richardson, president of the Eugene-Springfield NAACP, has helped manage this event for the last four years in order to provide a proactive reason for the community to come together and interact. In collaboration with the University of Oregon Division of Equity and Inclusion, Richardson maintains that the NAACP is a community-based organization that wants to promote solidarity in the Eugene-Springfield area.

“We want to keep our eyes on the prize as a community. Understanding that in hard times, there was a man that gave his life for the poor and for ideas that really need community support in order to be able to thrive,” said Richardson.

Claire Roswarth, 8, in blue, marches with Jacoby Harvey, 7, in red, and Brandy Rodtsbrooks and Leah Rosin. Rodtsbrooks said her family called off a holiday at Jacoby’s request. “We were going to take a long weekend to the coast and he made us come back and march,” she said. (Alex Powers/ FLUX)

Marchers of all ages held colorful signs as they gathered in preparation for the walk that would end at the John G. Shedd Institute in downtown Eugene.

Lesley-Anne Pittard, assistant vice president of the University of Oregon’s Division of Equity and Inclusion, believes that collaborating with the university is a great way to connect students with the greater Eugene area. Each year of her involvement, Pittard has witnessed growing levels of student participation and their high levels of enthusiasm for advocacy and social justice.

“It’s important to feel a part of your community, to really be connecting with folks and to be present. If there is ever any way that we can support and strengthen that relationship, we are excited to do it,” said Lesley-Anne Pittard.

In partnership with the Division of Equity and Inclusion, the University of Oregon Multicultural Center was represented to promote new ways for students to feel more at home on campus. Paulina Jafarzadeh, the external co-director, advocated for more opportunities that the center provides for students to get more involved in activism on campus.

MLK 2019 Community Choir leader Kathy Vrzak leads singers through “America the Beautiful” during a Martin Luther King Jr. rally outside Autzen Stadium Monday, Jan. 21, 2019, in Eugene. (Alex Powers/ FLUX)

“The MCC is a center dedicated to connecting student groups from multiple communities and of color, specifically. We’re able to help them with their student organizing, activism and just to provide a safe space for any student who may need it,” Jafarzadeh said.

Once arriving at the Shedd Institute, the marchers were able to enjoy a performance prepared by Eugene Symphony director Francesco Lecce-Chong and violinist Anthony Dyer. U.S. Congressman Peter Defazio, UO President Michael Schill and many other influential community members also met at Shedd Institute to present speeches to the finished marchers.

“Seeing all these people together is powerful. It shows how much people care, how much people want change and not just in this community, but in the state of Oregon and the nation,” said University of Oregon student Tre’von Robinson.

As a way to further commemorate Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., the University of Oregon Division of Equity and Inclusion is hosting a gospel music concert this Friday, Jan. 25, called “Higher Heights, Deeper Love.” The concert will take place in Matthew Knight Arena at 7 p.m. Tickets may be purchased for $20 at the box office.