The freezing rain before sunrise Monday did nothing to extinguish the spirits of those who marched to the Hammond Civic Center, even if it extinguished the candles.
The City of Hammond's annual march and ceremony for the Martin Luther King Jr. Day holiday, "Dream With a Purpose," brought young talent from all over the city and residents seeking a renewed sense of self.
U.S. Rep. Pete Visclosky, D-Merrillville, asked the crowd to recommit itself to King's legacy and start peacefully protesting as he did with marches and other nonviolent dissent. He pointed out that one of the big victories of the Civil Rights Movement – the Voting Rights Act, in which U.S. Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., played a big role – has been gutted by the U.S. Supreme Court.
"We have five elections before the next president. Let your voices be heard," he said.
Mayor Thomas McDermott Jr. praised King for being unafraid and idealistic, and leading the way for generations to follow. He also told the crowd that he's proud to lead "one of the most diverse cities in the nation," even if it's not a perfect place.
"I just want everybody to buy a home, be a good neighbor and that's it," he said. "I'm glad my children had the chance to grow up in Hammond because they don't have to think about having friends of other races or ethnicities; they just have them."
School City of Hammond Superintendent Walter Watkins said he tries to remind students that with civil rights, one can move a step forward but get pushed two steps back, and that it's never easy. However, one must never take their eye off the prize, he said.
"We need to encourage young people not to be dismayed at the obstacles. We must keep moving forward to make this a better city and country," Watkins said.
A Bishop Noll Institute junior at the event wondered how much of King's message of nonviolence sticks with their peers, who sometimes seem more prone to violent behavior than wanting to participate in a march.
"I think it's important to celebrate the example Martin Luther King set for African-Americans who want to make a difference in the world," the student said.
Several people were awarded the Ministerial Alliance's annual Legacy Award, including Willie D. White and Africa Tarver, the city's director of Economic Development.