FAMU students take part in historic march in Memphis

Photo courtesy of Onyx Franklin

Florida A&M University students went to Memphis this week to participate in the “MLK50 I Am 2018” March to commemorate the legacy of civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

I AM 2018 is a conglomerate of organizations including AFSCME, COGIC, and civil, human and workers’ rights leaders, according to the organization’s official website.

The march, held Wednesday on the 50th anniversary of the  assassination of King, attracted community leaders and thousands of attendees.

A USA Today Network news article reported the crowd at 8,000 to 10,000.

Among the participants was Jade Jacobs, third-year broadcast journalism student. “It was really humbling, especially since we were in the exact same city at the exact same time 50 years later that Martin Luther King was shot. It was very powerful to see black people marching for the same cause so long ago,” Jacobs said.

In 1968, the Memphis march was held after two black sanitation workers were crushed to death while working. Members of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) led the march.

“Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. traveled to Memphis to rally the community and express his solidarity because he understood the connection between labor rights, economic rights, human rights and civil rights. On the evening of April 3 at the historic Mason Temple, the Church of God in Christ International headquarters, Dr. King delivered his famous ‘Mountaintop’ speech. Less than 24 hours later, he was gunned down on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel,” the I AM 2018 official website said.

FAMU student body vice president, Dajuh Sawyer, also attended the rally. “The march was nothing but amazing. Thousands of people marched together to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Dr. King’s powerful rhetoric, moral leadership and ultimate sacrifice. And we remembered the 1,300 sanitation workers’ fearless demand for dignity. I felt very honored.” she said.

Photo courtesy of Jade Jacobs

The march attracted many community leaders and celebrities, including Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, Goapele, Common, Chris Tucker, attorney Angela Rye, the Rev. Al Sharpton, along with members of the King family.

 “We received inspiration from Dr. Bernice King, Martin Luther King III, ambassador Andrew Young, and Bishop Charles Edward Blake, Sr. We left Memphis with our minds set on carrying on Dr. Martin Luther King’s legacy,” Sawyer said. “Calvin Sykes, a sophomore broadcast journalism student, got the chance to meet Bernie Sanders.”

Sykes said he never expected to have a chance to hold a conversation with Sanders, who challenged Hillary Clinton for the Democratic nomination for president in 2016..

“For me it wasn't about myself, it was about speaking for others who cannot speak with themselves,” Sykes said. “When he asked, ‘So what is it like being a black man in America?’ I gave him the real. I told him that I’m given the short hand of the stick most of the time, but I have to speak on those and bring the issues that they have to life.”

Sykes thoroughly enjoyed his experience at the march. “We connected with different activists; it’s like they were passing the torch to the next generation so they have the tools to create a strike or rally or do whatever they need to do to get a solution to their problem.”

According to the I AM 2018 website, it isn’t just a reflection on the past; it’s a call to action for the future. An urgent call to fight poverty and prejudice, advance the freedom of all working people, and remind America that there can be no racial justice without economic justice and no economic justice without racial justice.