By Stephen Magagnini | OBSERVER Editor In Chief

Stevante Clark leads a parade of people through the streets of Sacramento on Monday, January, 16. Stephen Magagnini, OBSERVER

For the first time since COVID sidelined Sacramento’s annual Capitol March for the Dream, several thousand people of all races, colors, creeds and orientation took to the streets Monday.

They came out to honor what the late Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. fought for: unity, equality, justice, and peace now – and in the future.

“It’s been two years since we hit the streets. People needed to get out and express the unity that King represented,” said Sam Starks, director of the nonprofit MLK 365, which has orchestrated the march, now in its 42nd year, since 2004. “There’s something transformative about people physically walking together.”

Regardless of whether you marched from Del Paso Heights, South Sacramento, Oak Park or Sacramento City College, “if you’re not moving forward, you’re going backwards,” Starks said. “At the time we stopped marching we saw voter suppression on the rise. That’s why the March for the Dream never really ends.”

As the region braced for another wave of torrential rain, dozens of marchers came equipped with umbrellas, along with banners, posters and American flags.

“I can think of no better test of our faith and commitment,” Starks said as he watched the “love loop” of marchers pour down Land Park Drive, then turn right on Broadway. “The forecasters called for rain up until the very hour of the march, and though the numbers were not as large as in past years – we have gotten as many as 30,000 people from as far away as San Jose, San Francisco, Yuba City and Tahoe – the roughly 5,000 people who came out, their souls and spirits were filled with passion.”

Starks firmly believes “faith is the belief that leads to action, and with this generation we really do need faith; we need the idea of acting before seeing results.”

Hundreds of marchers left the Oak Park Community Center to “walk the extra mile” to Sacramento City College and did the “love loop” through Land Park, up Freeport and back to City College, Starks said. “It really is a march of love.”

At City College, the extra-milers were joined by thousands of others, including a group led by Stevante Clark, brother of Stephon Clark, who on March 18, 2018, was shot to death by two Sacramento police officers in his grandmother’s Meadowview backyard because the officers thought the 22-year-old was holding a gun instead of a cell phone.

“King said ‘The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing … in the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends,’” said Stevante Clark, 30, who led marchers in song from a truck featuring a DJ. “By honoring Dr. King and bringing people together in a positive way, we honor my brother Stephon, who also was a martyr, a prophet. Both Stephon and King should still be alive today. So should George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Tamir Rice. …”

Several dozen law enforcement officials joined the march, from patrol officers and sheriff’s deputies to new Sheriff Jim Cooper and Chief of Police Kathy Lester.

Clark declared it’s more important to come together than ever. “Why don’t you see every African American coming out for the march? It does hurt a little bit not to see more turn out for the Black people who represent 40% of the homeless population, the 25% of police shooting victims nationwide, when we are only 14% of the population – you see these horrible statistics and turnout is important.”

“Just before he died at 39 with the heart of a 75-year-old, Dr. King said in 1967 ‘My dream is turning into a nightmare,’” Clark noted. King called the optimism of the civil rights movement “a little superficial” and said America had to get realistic about “the difficult days ahead.”

As “We Are Family” by Sister Sledge and other inspirational songs got the marchers dancing, Clark danced with them. “I will never forget the smiles on the children’s faces, the joy on the faces of the eldest ones in the crowd, the young people holding hands coming together across race,” Clark said.

Mothers and fathers marched with their children, some in baby carriages, and Clark recalled being taken on the march as a child by his grandmother, Sequita Thompson.

An anthem for the march could be “Ain’t Gonna Let Nobody Turn Us Around,” Starks said, because “we’re not going to let a little rain stop us from walking. On our MLK 360 website there are images of people being sprayed with hoses. I told people if it rains, let it cleanse and renew our souls.”