MLK Day different with upcoming inauguration and BLM protests


BLM protestors hold flags up against the fence protecting the White House in Black Lives Matter Plaza. (By Skylar Tallal/Gaylord News)

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Martin Luther King Jr. Day this year might look different to  Black Americans, and not just because of cancellations due to the coronavirus pandemic. 

House 99 Democrat Rep. Ajay Pittman usually is grand marshal for Oklahoma City’s MLK parade. The parade is the third-largest in the nation and usually is extravagant. 

“There’s always a big to-do here with a prayer breakfast and a silent march, and then the monumental parade,” said Pittman. “It’s one of the things that is just amazing to see, and the day always means celebration.”

But this year, the parade was canceled and some Black Americans are reflecting differently on the holiday, between the months of protests against police brutality in 2020, and the promise of change with President-elect Joe Biden. Pittman was the first elected Oklahoman to endorse Biden, in February 2020.

“This is our moment in time to reflect on the struggles of women all across America as we celebrate 100 years of women’s right to vote,” said Pittman. “The activism of women and minority voters says that people remained connected in spite of their personal loss through the

2020 election cycles. Now look at the success of how far we have come as women of color.” 

A Black Lives Matter protester in Washington expressed similar sentiments.

“After 400 years [since slavery began] … enough is enough,” said Nadine Seiler. Biden credited Black women as key to his win in his victory speech on Nov. 7. But Seiler said she is nervous about Biden potentially breaking his promise to make life better for African-Americans across the U.S. 

“Black women are always taken for granted….[Politicians] ask for our vote, but they don’t do anything for us once they get it,” Seiler said on Saturday. Seiler said she has protested every day since George Floyd’s murder in June 2020, thanks to help from friends and fellow activists. 

One of those friends is Sam Harris. The University of Oklahoma alumnus has been providing HotHands hand warmers and snacks to protesters for most of the winter. 

“Whenever I start complaining about how cold it gets, I just think, ‘Oh, yeah, there’s someone who’s out there 24-7,’ and that should be enough in of itself to stop my own complaining,” said Harris, who said he is using his privilege as a white man to help make life better for his fellow Americans. 

“[In the] 400 years since white people came to North America… the legacy is brutality and racism and genocide,” Harris said. He said he is honored to be part of the changemakers. 

Pittman said she is “double honored,” to celebrate not just the upcoming inauguration of Biden, but also of Vice President-elect Kamala Harris. Like Harris, Pittman has a mixed heritage as an African- American woman and a member of the Seminole Nation. Pittman said that representation is so important for young Oklahoma girls to witness. 

“We forget that breaking barriers means we had to break something,” said Pittman. “You had to go through something that means you could be bloody. And, people don’t look at us as barrier-breakers. When they see us as history makers, they don’t look at it all — just that they were the first. Sometimes being the first is a plus, but sometimes it’s not always easy to be the first.”

Gaylord News is a reporting project of the University of Oklahoma Gaylord College of Journalism and Mass Communication.