Saturday two marches took place from the Marion County Courthouse to City Park. The same route, some of the same people, but for two different purposes: one to come together in unity and one to offer information about how to achieve racial progress.
The first march of the day was the third annual Unity Walk. People from all walks of life came together to celebrate the importance of being united as one. Close to 70 people participated. Following the walk the festivities continued until the afternoon at Duckworth Park, where in addition to food, games and activities, speakers addressed different areas to bridge the divide that has seemed to have ravaged the nation recently.
Mayor Justin McKenzie spoke of the need to change but reminded everyone that change starts with self.
“What kind of change are we going to see 50 years from now; 100 years from now?” McKenzie asked. “What will you be remembered for?”
McKenzie challenged the audience to be the change they want to see in the world. Other people are looking at you, he said; be the light to bring about the change. People will follow and respect you, when you bring the change, McKenzie said.
“I’m going to work on being a better me, and I want y’all to work on being a better you. We have to lead by example. It starts with one and it spreads among the rest,” McKenzie said.
He discussed the need of blood and how it did not make a difference where it came as all of it is red. People can come together and unify and make a tremendous impact on the community, state and nation, he said.
Zack Guidroz from the Marion County Jail spoke about the unintentional seeds of racism being planted. Guidroz has been with the facility for 10 years. He discussed he grew up in Columbia and how racism was real and he saw it.
“I didn’t realize what I was seeing because I was a child,” he said.
He spoke how people he looked up to growing up making racists comments behind closed doors and not allowing black people in their homes.
“Because I was a child, I thought that was right,” he said.
Guidroz said he was inadvertently being taught to be a racist. It was not anything anyone intended to teach but seeing and hearing how people acted played a role in teaching racism.
As he got older in high school and college his friendship with people expanded to include people from all ethnicities and he realized they were no different than he was.
“I cared enough about them to realize what I had been taught was wrong,” Guidroz said.
Guidroz said the change in his life happened in his sophomore year at the University of Southern Mississippi. The classrooms there were massive and he walked in and sat down next to an interracial gothic couple and he got to know them. He said eventually they became two of his closest friends in college.
He intentionally had the word “unlearn” tattooed on the back of his arm to initiate conversation so he can share his story.
“As kids we are soaking up everything we see and hear; our minds are like sponges,” he said. “If you want change, you have to start with self and then get your household in order. That is where it is going to happen. Then we can send our kids out into the community and that is where you will see the change.”
Rev. Larry Jenkins agreed with Guidroz that racism is taught. He said as parents and teachers, the children regardless of color need to learn to love instead of hate.
“If we can love our neighbors as we love ourselves, then racism and getting along with people would not be such a problem,” Jenkins said.
Jenkins said everyone needs to work together for the change to take place. Jenkins challenged everyone to speak out against racism. If the leaders will speak out against injustice then people under the leader will fight against injustice.
Jenkins quoted Martin Luther King Jr. “It is always time to do right.”
Pastor Antonio Johnson addressed the crowd and said this is the set time for change. Johnson said there needs to accountability for the community, police department and sheriff’s office. All the changes need to made, he believes can be made in Marion County.
Johnson said people are in a spiritual warfare. People can overcome anything, including racism, in the community, state and nation through Jesus. To overcome the people must have the spirit of unity, he said.
“The greatest weapon God gives us is love,” Johnson said.
He said one thing that needs to change is men running around the community creating babies. It is time for men to stand up and be the head of the family and to take charge of the family in accordance of the Lord, he said.
Johnson spoke about gangs and organizations. He said if the gangs and organizations would preach the Gospel they could really change the community. He questioned how can one protest injustice when one is selling drugs and stealing in their own community?
The final speaker of the morning event was Police Chief Michael Kelly. Kelly shared the work of the Mercy Project and helping addicts overcome addictions.
“The system is not meant to fix man’s heart, just put them away,” Kelly said.
Kelly said putting the addicts in a faith-based treatment is a calling. Kelly discussed how the project has been in existence for two years and has been helping individuals and their families to receive proper treatment and to see them through.
“You don’t see that on television or on social media,” Kelly said.
Kelly said people only see the bad and never hear of the good work that is being done behind the scenes.
At the second march Saturday evening, a program was sponsored by My Sister’s Keeper 2.0, a coalition of peace, hope, harmony and change. A panel of speakers addressed various topics, including social injustice, voter registration, felony disenfranchisement, prison reform, economic freedom and NAACP recruitment.
After a prayer by Rev. Edward Handshaw, Rev. Darrick McGowan spoke to the crowd at the city park.
“Marching is good, but we all need to march to the precincts to vote,” McGowan said.
McGowan encouraged everyone to vote and if a person was not registered to vote, a table was set up to help with registration.
He said it didn’t matter if a person has one dollar or a billion dollars, everyone only has one vote. Too many feel like their votes do not matter but every vote count, he said. It starts with the local level and works its way all to the White House.
McGowan reminded everyone not only does one need to vote but also to hold the elected officials accountable.
Other speakers at the event include Ja’Vaughn Osgood, who spoke about the origin of African Americans. He also spoke about family values and responsibilities people have to their communities. Tony Hutton spoke on economic growth and stimulus within the African American community. Wesley Bridges spoke on the importance of voter registration, voting, felony disenfranchisement and prison reform.
More than 40 attended the evening march.