Dozens of Lufkin residents took a walk Monday down Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard to honor the memory of the civil rights leader killed nearly 55 years ago.
Many marching were dressed in black or wearing shirts commemorating the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s work. And there is still work to be done to address the pervasive inequalities in the United States, according to some of those residents.
“You know how often people say he had a dream?” asked Patricia McKenzie, a longtime Lufkin activist and the minority representative for Angelina County.
“We need to have that same dream because there are still problems in our country, and people need to recognize: If we come together, we can make a difference.”
McKenzie believes the most pervasive part of King’s movement was to push the country to recognize there are inequalities and that something needs to be done about them, she said.
“Now, all of them don’t step forward and try to make a difference,” she said. “But at least they acknowledge that we can do better than this with the United States of America. Surely we can show that we recognize the value of people.”
King advocated for organization and activism but not violence. And the world still needs to shed itself of the mindset that someone else should solve the problem, she said. Change will come when community members come together under a common goal and make a point to teach the youth about the work of their elders so they will continue that work.
This was part of Talisha Goolsby’s goal as she brought Mkynleigh Whitfield, 6, Myles Houston, 2, Jakxton Castle, 11, and Karriah Castle, 8, along with her on Monday’s march.
“To me, it is a historical day,” she said. “We’re celebrating a historical person who laid the path for all of us to be here. And I believe in his dream that one day, everybody will be able to get along and all come together for one great purpose. And I want to show my kids what that’s all about. I’ve started at a young age.”
She hopes the kids will absorb his teachings and let it guide them through life.
Jakxton has been learning about King at Brandon Elementary School, he said. He was excited about the march because it fit so well with what they were learning and it made him feel as if he was there in history himself, he said.
Jakxton said the most important thing he has learned came from a 1954 speech in which King said, “We are not makers of history. We are made by history.”
“It means if someone in history makes a mistake, hopefully people in the future will learn from that person’s mistake and not make the same mistakes,” Jakxton said.
Mkynleigh was most excited to walk in the march because, for once, she didn’t feel shy, she said. She said she was learning about King at Dunbar Primary.
“We learned about him like when he was born for, in the years,” she said. “He went on top of the mountain top. He said that he had a dream about people being kind to their own skin.”
Dunbar was a historically Black school in Lufkin and was in the minds of Lufkin Panther football players as they joined the march wearing black football jerseys with “Dunbar” emblazoned on the front.
“They kind of represent and honor Lufkin, Dunbar, which was the all-Black school that was here in Lufkin,” said James Durham, the team’s secondary coach.
“I thought it would be good if we could wear it today. It’s significant to honor them, to honor Dunbar, the people that went through this, this stuff that Martin Luther King had to fight for us — they were there.”
The jersey’s were adopted by the team this year to represent and honor Dunbar and those who lived in segregation and had to fight for their rights, he said.
Among the players assembled was Isaiah Menefee, a starting safety for the Panthers.
“We're fixing to go march in support of MLK Day,” he said.
Even though the events King experienced were in the past, he believes there are still problems for the U.S. to work out. While he hasn’t experienced anything bad in Lufkin, he has seen disproportionate reactions from police dealing with young Black men on the news.
Lufkin in the recent past has struggled with gang problems, according to Lufkin police. But those are people who hang around with the wrong crowd, he said. And being on the team has exposed him to teammates and coaches who offer him support.
“I invited these guys to come out and walk in this march as an opportunity to show that not all kids are bad in Lufkin,” Durham said. “Not all kids are troublemakers. These are some very good kids out here who are trying to do the right thing, and they want to show it.”
He agreed with Isaiah’s assessment of the problems facing the country. Injustices are still prevalent and need to be addressed, Durham said.
If he could, he would see the 88th Legislature tackle what problems bolster rather than hinder inequalities so everyone is treated the same regardless of color, creed or hometown.
“Can they make the laws do that?” he asked. “Probably not. But that would be something that will stand out.”
King taught the world that everyone was equal and they shouldn’t be treated differently, Lufkin senior Mylah Lee said. Lee is the local chapter president of the Top Teens of America, a group focused on helping Black students learn leadership, how to build strong relationships and to connect with scholarships and other opportunities.
“We’re marching to honor and recognize the inequalities we’ve had in the world and to honor that we have come so far from where we were back then,” she said.
She pointed to the crowd assembled on Monday. While a majority were Black, intermixed were white, Hispanic and people of Asian descent.
Growth also came as job opportunities for people of color were far expanded beyond what they were when King was alive, she said. Where once Black Americans were kept in the working class, they now can pursue careers in medicine or law, or even become president, she said.
“We’re all the same,” she said. “We’re the same color. We have the same functions of the body and we shouldn’t be treated differently because of the color of our skin or anything else like that.”
Mayor Mark Hicks said this is something about Lufkin that makes him proud. He believes that while there is room for improvement, the community is supportive of people of color and there are opportunities available for them.
“That’s a very important aspect of the overall quality of life in the community,” he said.
There is still work to be done, however. Stereotypes are contributing to the deaths of Black people, and the evidence is in videos of innocent people being taken out by police officers, Mylah said. This isn’t an issue that can be resolved through policy or laws, though — it is a mindset that has to be taught generationally, she said.
“I feel like if we just teach our future generations to be different and better than that, that can bring a much better change to the world,” Mylah said.
But if she could have the Legislature fix anything this session, Mylah would have them address the treatment of hair in school and work places. While there are laws preventing discrimination, dress codes still limit what Black people can do with their hair. Box braids and natural afros are often considered unacceptable, and those who silk press their hair face other types of pressure from those accusing them of trying to be something they are not, she said.
“I know people have changed in their mindset, but it has to come forward in policies, in the way we live and the way we treat each other,” McKenzie said.
She believes a peaceful approach to change will show younger generations violence is unnecessary in pushing agendas they hope will benefit themselves and their neighbors, she said. Nonviolence was never truly understood, but it works, she said.
If she could see the Legislature address anything to further promote equality, she would like to see them address the way health care and education are handled, especially health care.
“Health care stands out as No. 1,” she said. There are still people who shouldn’t have to suffer the way they suffer simply because they’re not the right color, simply because they don’t have medical insurance.”
And for all the advice about eating healthy, she reminded people that eating healthy is expensive. While the world can teach people to eat better, there has to be some work to address the cost and availability.
Hicks believes Lufkin has great resources, but agreed there can be more done to promote the resources available and connect those who need help to those resources, he said.
He believes the Legislature could assist residents through reforming property taxes, which have become expensive, and addressing mental health issues. Currently, the Angelina County Jail is one of the biggest resources for people dealing with mental health issues; but fixing the system to stop sending mentally ill people to prison and instead giving them help would be big.
“I would like for them to look at ways that we can better do that,” he said.