by Quinn Welsch
Despite heavy snow, Whatcom Community College students demonstrated their support at the Martin Luther King Day of Service: A Call to Action, on campus, and the Poverty Action March, in downtown Bellingham.
Members of the student council and the Service-Learning Club met with students from Whatcom and Bellingham Technical College in the Syre Student Center to commemorate the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. The event follows the Whatcom Human Rights Task Force’s MLK Human Rights Conference, held on January 14.
The event, organized by Service-Learning Club leader Meghan Rydell, collected more than 400 donations from Whatcom and BTC students. Although the turnout consisted of only 34 students, Rydell, 24, described the student presence as “heartwarming.” This is Whatcom’s third annual MLK Day of Service, and the first time they have participated in a march.
Student council member Stephanie Young said that they were expecting about 100 people without snow, and about 50 with snow. “Always aim big and hope for the best,” Young said.
Mindi Mathis, a campus project coordinator, also praised student participation, “If they’re willing to arrive at 8 a.m. on a Monday, when it snowed, it’s a really powerful message,” she said.
Steve Laster, 51, who is originally from Las Vegas, said he came to the campus because he wanted to hear what people had to say about poverty. Laster said Bellingham is a much more helpful community than Las Vegas. “In Nevada, they’re willing to help, but they want to get paid for it.”
Students in the Syre Building took part in activities describing the powerful things they have accomplished with their hands.
“These hands have made friends,” said one person.
“These hands have prayed for community members,” said another.
Students took turns talking about their personal experiences with civil rights and poverty.
“Poverty is such a hushed taboo to discuss,” said Kashia Gale, 18, dressed in a multicolored hat and scarves. “Bringing the awareness to the topic of poverty will inspire action to take place.” She also said that listening to people’s stories is a huge part of moving forward in social issues.
Young agreed. “A lot of times we get wrapped up in our own idea,” she said. “We need to take a step back sometimes and listen to these stories.”
Just before 10 a.m., the group left the Syre Student Center and took the bus downtown where they met with more community demonstrators in front of the Whatcom County Courthouse. Outside the courthouse was a variety of individuals, young and old. Although, Rev. King’s mission was paramount to racial equality, the demonstrators here stressed financial equality.
The marchers, who filled an entire lane of traffic and extended two blocks in length, made their way to the Federal Building, carrying signs and pickets denouncing financial discrimination. Musicians Robert Sarazin Blake and Mike Marker, played the tune “Down by the Riverside” on guitar and banjo as the demonstrators sang with them in their chorus.
Demonstrators marched back towards the courthouse, where community organizers wrapped up the event. Though it was over, Whatcom students continued the dialogue behind the Bellingham Public Library.
Student council member, Makela Alem, 18, said “I’ve been having really good conversations with people.”
It was the first civil rights march for more than half the students attending. Students talked to each other about the event, and how it affected them.
“Everything that people have said touched me emotionally,” said Gale.
The march was sponsored by multiple groups throughout Whatcom County. The demonstration was not only about remembering the work of Rev. King, but of continuing his work. Rev. King was assassinated before he could attend his own Poor People’s Campaign, which was aimed at eliminating poverty in the U.S.