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Davis, California

Sunday, April 14, 2024

Same Song, Different Dance

MLK 365 March For The Dream

An escalation of engines revved as a fleet of motorcycles turned onto 13th St. in Downtown Sacramento — their large bikes sputtering as they parked in a neat line in front of the Convention Center entrance. Following not far behind was a crowd of nearly 30,000 people marching in the ‘March For The Dream’ Martin Luther King Day celebration put on by the MLK 365 organization.

The large men unmounting from the bikes wore black leather motorcycle jackets embroidered with ‘Buffalo Soldiers MC’ in bold yellow lettering across the back. Each had unique patches fixed to the chest and sleeves; upon closer inspection, these denoted various military accomplishments.

These ex-military and armed force men make up the Western Frontier of the National Association of Buffalo Soldiers and Troopers Motorcycle Club, one of the five divisions  volunteering their time to serve their communities.

“I don’t join clubs,” said Carl Goldwire, a seventeen-year member of the North Bay chapter. “But once I learned the history and the meaning of the Buffalo Soldiers, I wanted to be a part of sharing this rich history.”

It was hard to hear over the Black Lives Matter chants around us, but he stood relaxed, puffing away at the cigar between his crooked teeth. He was older, but the grey hairs only sparsely tickled his head.

In 1866, long before Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was born, Congress allowed six all-black regiments to form within the U.S. Army — four infantry and two cavalry. This act by Congress was a peacemaking that came as a result of the nearly 200,000 U.S. colored troops that fought in the Civil War as volunteers.

From 1866 to 1891 these six units fought in the Indian Wars, earning the name Buffalo Soldiers from the Native American opposition. The creation of these all-black regiments was a significant step considering this preceded the Civil Rights Movement by nearly 100 years. It wasn’t until 1948 that President Truman signed executive order 9981 abolishing discrimination “on the basis of race, color, religion or national origin” in the U.S. Armed Forces.

Today, the legacy and spirit of the Buffalo Soldiers lives on in communities nationwide through the 115 chapters of the Buffalo Soldiers Motorcycle Club (BSMC).

“We come to events like this to show our support for the community, to show that we are here to help,” said Charles Byrd, a member of the BSMC Sacramento chapter. “I’ve been in [the BSMC] for four years, and before that I was in the army for 14 years.”

Among the many diverse faces in the crowd were young people, walking with their families, girl scout troops or nuzzled in their mothers chests.

“Every year we raise money for a scholarship for young folks,” Byrd said. “We take donations and hold events like one we did at the Harley Davidson dealership when they had a launch. We sold hotdogs and hamburgers.”

The Western Frontier awards annual scholarships to highschool graduates in the community, raising money throughout the year.

“We want to be that positive role model in the community, we want to ride our bikes in a positive light,” Byrd said. “I feel honored that I get to be part of that history.”

This forward thinking message is also at the root of the March For The Dream event. MLK 365’s Executive Director and founder Sam Starks approached the celebration of Martin Luther King Day differently.

“This is not a petition march, we are not marching for anything like the Women’s March or the Black Lives Matter — they are marching for something,” Starks said. “Ours is really creating an engagement where people can reach out to someone who doesn’t look like them and to build understanding.”

Unlike other marches that celebrate the life of Martin Luther King Jr. one day a year, Starks sees the March For The Dream as day one of a year long practice.

“Building that beloved community that Dr. King would talk about,” Starks said. “We realize we have to create opportunities for practice, to practice those values that he and others died fighting for.”

Starks talked about his 18 year old daughter and how he is optimistic that her generation will be the one to change the world, how young people are unafraid to ask questions and are willing to engage in tough conversations.

“Perfection is in the gray, it’s not in the black and white,” Starks said. “And it’s in the asking of questions, it’s in the challenging and perfecting of the idea — that’s where it is. This millennial generation is cued up to take us to that.”

At the close of the march, Starks stood in the bed of a large truck with a microphone, addressing the large crowd outside the convention center. Amidst the smiling faces and MLK posters, there were also Black Lives Matter supporters chanting louder and louder, drowning Starks recitations of King.

Starks explained that the Black Lives Matter Sacramento group has been attending the march for years, voicing their rejection of the law enforcement-sponsored event. But this year was different.

“When the Black Lives Matter people came as they traditionally do, I said ‘let them through,’” Starks said. “Every voice should be heard.”

Following persistent chants, Starks invited Tanya Faison, the Black Lives Matter Sacramento founder, to the truck-bed stage. He urged the audience to listen.

“I just saw this as an opportunity to practice before the crowd, to put Dr. King’s values into practice,” Starks said. “This happens every year, but this was a moment.”

Though Starks employs different strategies, MLK 365 acknowledges, celebrates and affirms the work of the Black Lives Matter movement and other organizations that practice activism to hold other institutions accountable.

“All of these marches, all of these organizations are calling for the same thing: a community of understanding and human values,” Starks said. “They just use different ways to approach it. Same song, different dance.”

The next dance in MLK 365’s year-long practice is just that, a follow up conversation.

For more information visit <https://marchforthedream.org>

Written by: Grace Simmons — features@theaggie.org


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