HAMMOND — Dozens of people braved bitter cold weather before dawn Monday to march the half mile from Hammond City Hall to the Civic Center as part of the annual Candlelight March and Celebration honoring Martin Luther King Jr.
Participating in her first march, Stephanie Reeves, of Crown Point, said it’s important to remember what King did and “to celebrate with others of like-mindedness today.”
Reeves brought along her 16-year-old son, Silas Reeves, a junior at Crown Point High School, and a friend, Linda Oviedo of Hammond.
“It means a lot that we can come together almost like Martin Luther King did on his marches, even though we don’t know each other,” Silas Reeves said.
The marchers joined hundreds of others inside the Hammond Civic Center to celebrate the 34th annual Martin Luther King Jr. federal holiday with music, prayers, messages and the presentation of Legacy Awards.
“The Lord has been good to us on a cold day. We are headed in a good direction,” said Bishop Brandon A. Jacobs Sr., president of The Ministerial Alliance of Hammond & Vicinity, co-sponsors of the event with the city of Hammond.
“Our theme is ‘Fan the Flame,'" Jacobs said. “As Dr. King said ‘Fan the flames within yourself to radically serve your fellow man.'"
Mayor Thomas M. McDermott Jr. reflected on what King achieved in just 39 years of life.
“When we celebrate Presidents Day, it’s for all presidents. But Martin Luther King Day honors just one man,” he said.
“What he did in 39 years – he met with world leaders and presidents. He led a nonviolent movement. He refused to accept segregation,” McDermott said. “He said he had a dream that our kids would play together, go to the same schools. An amazing life!”
U.S. Rep. Pete Visclosky, D-Gary, told those gathered that this celebration honors King’s work “and work that still needs to be done. There are very hard times. … There’s income inequality, cruelty, meanness soiling the public debate. It’s time to break the meanness.”
Walter J. Watkins, superintendent of the School City of Hammond, emphasized that King was “the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King. He received an education when opportunities weren’t readily available.”
“The function of education is to teach young people to think critically,” Watkins said, addressing parents. “You are your child’s first and best classroom teacher. Our goal is to get your children ready for the challenges they will face when they go out into the real world.”