“We have work to do!” was a persistent theme among the African-American speakers Sunday and Monday marking the birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr.
But even one Latina participant spontaneously said something similar in an interview with Free Press.
It was a level of urgency to organize that has not been present in the recent past.
Typically, the holiday is marked in Oklahoma City with remembrances of King and recognition of those who participated in the civil rights struggle in the past. And that happened this year, too.
But preachers Sunday (see our coverage) and politicians Monday of the weekend freely used some version of the phrase encouraging people to get involved in activism and to become more politically aware.
Even a state official on Governor Fallin’s cabinet used the phrase in an address.
Although some were guarded in their pointing to the coming inauguration of Donald Trump to the U.S. presidency, all who used the phrase did give reference to the open hostility that blacks and Latinos are now experiencing from those who passionately supported Trump in the last election.
Anastasia Pittman, senator from Oklahoma Senate District 48 in east Oklahoma City was bold and to the point about what concerned people should do in the new age of Trump.
During the program at the Oklahoma History Center on NE 23rd Street, she encouraged those present to pay close attention to the changes that are being proposed in the upcoming legislative session and national presidency.
“When we are talking about the changing of the guard, the election of a new president, that means you got to get your pencil and paper out and you need to be recording what some of the changes are,” Pittman said. “Because you are going to see some changes.”
“As a people, we have to start using the language of the liberator,” she said.
Even more blunt was Representative George Young from Oklahoma House District 99 along the near east side of Oklahoma City.
“There is a struggle going on. We need to fight. We need to be educated. And we need to be a part of it,” said Young.
But the call to action was not only delivered by the firebrands of the Democratic Party.
Michael C. Thompson is the commissioner of the Oklahoma Department of Public Safety. He is also a brigadier general for the Oklahoma National Guard. He is not known as a liberal by any measure.
Yet, at the History Center event, even he said “we have work to do” when referring to black people standing up to preserve their rights that have been hard won over the years.
Thompson is black and grew up in humble surroundings in Purcell, Oklahoma.
“Without the work of Dr. King there’s no way I would be here today as the Commissioner of Public Safety. No way,” Thompson said. “We owe a great debt to him.”
He said that the annual ringing of the bell outside was symbolic of King’s legacy. But there was more to his comments.
“It’s also a subtle signal to the rest of us that we have work to do,” Thompson said. “We are still just struggling. This thing we are embroiled in, it’s still not over.”
This year several south side organizations encouraged their Hispanic members to show support for the MLK Day events.
Brenda Hernandez was one of the Latina’s who participated in the silent march in the morning and the rest of the activities of the day.
After the official bell-ringing with Governor Fallin, Hernandez talked with Free Press about her participation.
“The Hispanic community and African-American community share many of the same challenges,” said Hernandez. “It’s time to come together and support one another and have that sense of community where we can be there for each other.”
She was direct about the impact that Trump’s election has had on the Hispanic community.
“There is a sense of fear. There are lots of concerns in our Hispanic community,” Hernandez said.
“A lot of things that were said during the election made you feel that sense of discrimination – that sense of hate, really. I think all of the minority communities felt that,” she said.