The schedule for Martin Luther King Jr. Day stays the same in OKC, but realities for black Americans continue to change each year revealed by those who lead and participate in the day’s activities.
The ceremony at the Oklahoma History Center drew another large crowd of all ages and many cultural backgrounds.
After the ceremony, Free Press asked Rep. George Young, HD99 – Oklahoma City, if race relations are better now than they were ten years ago.
“Yes. Things have occurred that have caused us to talk more about race relations,”
the east side representative said. “Barack Obama was elected and served two terms and other things have happened that caused there to be more conversation. So that’s good.”
But when asked about economic equity, he had a different answer.
“That’s a much more serious problem,” Young said. “When looking at the net worth of black people you can tell that the chasm is so great and it is increasing.”
Lieutenant Governor Todd Lamb spoke at the ceremony and led the bell-ringing outside in the bitter cold.
After the ceremony, we asked him what he thought the biggest challenges were for the coming ten years in Oklahoma in race relations.
“We want to make sure there’s opportunity for everybody. Not just opportunity for some. Not just opportunity for a select few,” Lamb said.
“It’s important to make sure job opportunities are there and educational opportunities are there.”
Mount Saint Mary Catholic high school on the south side had about 75 students who came to the event even though their school was in session on the national holiday.
One of the administrators of the school, David Roberts, said students are given the day as an excused absence if they decide to go to the commemoration each year.
“Our school promotes social justice and expects our students to be active participants in promoting it,” said Roberts.
He said they want their students, who come from all parts of the metro, to have compassion and empathize with others who are different from themselves.
Instead of Mount St. Mary requiring a certain number of hours of service to the community as some schools do, they require each organization from the football team to the book club to have an active service component that everyone in the organization participates in.
We talked to a few Mount St. Mary students who were waiting to load their bus.
What’s the biggest challenge right now for race relations in the city and state?
“It’s people not just seeing one side because they can’t see past what they think,” said Madeline Bates. “I think when people find a way to relate to each other, … that’s when people start getting along.”
At Douglass High School a job fair was underway during the morning and early afternoon.
The responses we got from participants revealed the uphill climb it can be to find meaningful work with livable wages.
Three young women on their way out said they talked to several of the companies and agencies that were there.
They talked about some of the challenges in the current job market.
All three said they wanted to work at a job that was more than working fast food.
Teja Hill, 18, said she is going to graduate in May and is already looking for a good job, but it’s hard to find one.
“A lot of jobs say they are hiring and they never hire anybody.”
Diamond Alexander, 19, said she is glad to have her call center job instead of fast food, but she is looking for a better job.
Oshayla Jones, 25, told us she was trying to recover from a crime she committed. She has a deferred sentence, which makes it harder to get a good job than if she had actually served time and gotten out.
“I went to Texas with my three kids and was able to get good jobs there in warehouses and other industry,” Jones said. “But we got homesick for family and came back, so now I’m looking again. Oklahoma is a lot harder for someone with a conviction.”
She said she is hopeful, though and that’s why she was at the job fair.
The parade was another long one in cold temperatures.
A crowd gathered to brave the cold winds whistling down N. Broadway Avenue and see the many black fraternities and sororities, as well as marching bands, political and corporate floats.
One spectator, Neven White, said she had never come to the parade before and decided to come for the fun of it even though it was cold.
“I’m glad I came. This is impressive.”