Speaking with enough fire in his voice to warm those gathered on a cold winter day, Linden Young invoked the words of Martin Luther King Jr.: "We must learn to live together as brothers or perish together as fools."
King's words, delivered during a March 1968 speech in St. Louis, gave much for Young to contemplate as he addressed more than 100 people who had gathered Monday evening during Columbus' annual MLK Day March.
To Young, a senior at Franklin Heights High School on the city's West Side, King's words were an indictment of segregation, but also a call to action. In Young's estimation, King intended to impart the importance of Americans overcoming the literal and metaphorical barriers keeping them divided.
"Dr. King made it clear we should connect in our brotherhood rather than separate in opposition to one another," Young said to those who had congregated outside City Hall in Downtown Columbus. "Our world is very polarized and that stops us from making connections with people who disagree with us; this does not make us stronger."
Young and Helena Savannah, a senior at Pickerington Central High School, won an oratorical contest in December that allowed them to join city officials on Monday in delivering prepared remarks during the annual event.
The march had been cancelled in 2021 due to COVID-19 concerns, a first for the annual event that had taken place since 1987, a year after MLK Day first became a federally recognized holiday. Though a snow storm had pummeled much of the region and left Franklin County briefly under a level 2 snow emergency, well over 100 people turned out for Monday night's event in honor of the civil rights icon who was assassinated in 1968. The event concluded with a brief march around City Hall.
Several of those in attendance were city and county elected officials who did not speak.
"It is great to be back in person here at City Hall," said Mayor Andrew J. Ginther, "…to celebrate one of the greatest peacemakers the world has ever known."
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All told, Monday's events culminating in the march were a way to honor King's legacy while continuing to fight for social justice causes such as voting rights and housing, said Columbus City Council President Shannon Hardin.
"It's important for us to recognize a life that was well-lived, a legacy we stand on the shoulders of," Hardin said before the crowd. "We should think of Dr. King as the comma, not the exclamation mark."
Eric Lagatta is a reporter at the Columbus Dispatch covering public safety, breaking news and social justice issues. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @EricLagatta
This article originally appeared on The Columbus Dispatch: Martin Luther King Jr. Day crowd marches through Columbus