JONESBORO, Ark. (KAIT) - The Northeast Arkansas Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Parade Committee hosted a rally Saturday, telling those in attendance this is a time to stand in solidarity and not in silence.
The group, also known as the Craighead County MLK Parade Committee, set a theme around Saturday’s march calling it #DefendTheDream.
The co-chair for the organization, Ashley Wilson, said over 50 years later after the death of King, “we are still fighting and still pushing.”
“The fight must go on, that change must happen and one day, his dream will come to fruition," Wilson said.
Over 100 people met at Fullness of Joy Ministries, the starting point for protest with the support of Jonesboro police and several community and city leaders.
The group marched for two miles through the city. The group even stopped traffic on arguably one of the busiest streets in Jonesboro, Red Wolf Boulevard.
The end of the march ended at the concrete slab where Gateway Tire used to stand on the corner of Caraway Road and while there, they had a program centered around furthering the call for change for social injustices, and the need for policy change.
The group says “We believe that Dr. King’s dream is of importance in our everyday lives and communities across all people. We have made a few strides towards fulfilling his dream, but we still have a ways to go in breaking down racial barriers in law enforcement, in our neighborhoods, in government agencies, educational institutions, our legal system, in the workplace, but most importantly, in the hearts and minds of many.”
Those in attendance listened to one group sing words of encouragement. “Be strong, don’t give up the fight,” flowed through the speakers.
Several pastors also took to the podium to promote justice and change.
Jonesboro Police Department Reserve Officer, Shunqetta Cunningham not only assisted in leading the group through the streets but also said “the community is speaking out and it’s a good thing.”
“It’s a duality of serving as a reserve officer but, the ultimate reality is that I am a black woman out of this uniform," Cunningham said. “We have a great police department. Is anything perfect? No, but these moments like this speak that truth to power and demands accountability.”
The organization says "they have an ongoing relationship with law enforcement and city officials and through this relationship, they hope to continue to discuss solutions and help implement necessary changes that will support equality, zero tolerance towards police brutality, put an end to racial profiling, biases towards African American males & females, inconsistent application of the law towards blacks in our court system, amongst several other things."
There were also multiple stations set up to get those who are not registered to vote signed up. Wilson said they are working with several different groups in the city to help change policies that look at everybody and include minorities.
“We need to change the hearts of people so even if the polices change and we enforce things, if people’s hearts aren’t changed, I don’t know how much forward we are going to be able to move,” Wilson said.
The group quotes Dr. King as, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that,” as fuel as part of their intent and the tone of their rally.
The committee also honored four members of the community Saturday with a medal of honor.
David Burnside, Deja Williams, Lexi Brandon, and Yesenia Hernandez were given medals for the early acts of organizing the first few protests in the city.
The first starting on Caraway traveled down to the police department and the second happened downtown.
Wilson says they were impressed with the four of them for having the heart to demand change.
The Northeast Arkansas Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Parade Committee says they appreciate everyone who came out and they will continue to give their voices to this national concern.