CHEYENNE, Wyo. — When people of all races choose to serve one another, the country’s hope for racial equality can become reality, said local leaders this afternoon as Cheyenne residents, city officials and members of the armed forces rallied outside the state capitol.
Hundreds gathered there to honor the birthday of civil rights leader and activist Martin Luther King Jr., who is known for using nonviolent resistance to advocate for equal rights for Black Americans. King was assassinated in 1968 at the age of 39.
Martin Luther King Jr. Day was recognized as a federal holiday in 1983 and is celebrated nationwide on the third Monday in January. Wyoming adopted it as “Martin Luther King Jr./Wyoming Equality Day” in 1990, largely due to the efforts of former senator Harriet ”Liz” Byrd, the first Black woman to serve in the state’s House and Senate.
Each year, rallygoers meet at the Cheyenne Depot Plaza and march half a mile to the capitol building to symbolize King’s famous 1963 march on Washington D.C. for civil rights. At the end of the march, activists reflect on King’s work and express their hopes for future equality efforts in the community.
This year, organizers included the theme “Year of the Military” and thanked the diverse members of the ROTC and armed forces who participated in the march for their service.
The event’s keynote speaker was Sylvetris Hlongwane, the first African American woman to serve as the Command Chief Master Sergeant for the 90th Missile Wing at the F.E. Warren Air Force Base.
Hlongwane told rallygoers that King understood the importance of service and how it is used to bring people of different backgrounds together.
“It is through our service, acknowledgement of diversity challenges, and actions to combat those challenges … our sacrifices, that we are able to turn that hope into a reality,” Hlongwane said.
Governor Mark Gordon, who spoke afterward, added that the military is an example of how people can unite to bring change.
“Our [military came] from a nation that had citizens that came together and understood that we had to stand together to protect the liberties that we were seeking,” he said. “That’s the legacy that our very professional armed services now have.”
In keeping with the theme of serving others, Gordon signed a proclamation during the rally which declared Jan. 16 as “King Equality Day of Service.”
The proclamation encourages Wyomingites to take part in community service projects and mirrors the federal King Holiday and Service Act of 1994, which designates the holiday as a national day of service.
Cheyenne resident JazMinn Jackson, who attends the marches almost every year, said it was “amazing” and “beautiful” to see so many people, including members of the armed forces, walking together to honor King.
“I’m glad to be around a lot of people who are out here,” Jackson said. “The year before this one it was half of these people, so it’s a beautiful thing to see here.”
Andrew Johnson, another Cheyenne resident and march attendee, said this is what the holiday is all about.
“Martin Luther King Day is for us to recognize people, come together and try to get along,” he said. “This has always been brought to my attention as a young man. … I’ll recognize King’s birthday no matter what.”