SHARE
MLK Day
A military veteran protests Saturday, Jan. 16, 2021, for Black Lives Matter across the street from the White House and an inauguration stage. (By Bennett Brinkman/Gaylord News).

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

State Rep. Ajay Pittman (D-OKC) has previously served as grand marshal for Oklahoma City’s MLK Day parade, the third-largest in the nation and usually an extravagant affair.

Gaylord NewsThis story was reported by Gaylord News, a Washington reporting project of the Gaylord College of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Oklahoma.

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

But this year, OKC’s in-person parade has been cancelled 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 said she 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 during 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.

‘Brutality and racism and genocide’

Seiler said she has protested every day since George Floyd’s death in June 2020, thanks to help from friends and fellow activists.

PHOTOS:
2020 MLK Day parade

Capturing the emotion of a moment on MLK Day by Michael Duncan

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 and of itself to stop my own complaining,” Harris said. “[In the] 400 years since white people came to North America (…) the legacy is brutality and racism and genocide.”

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 representation is important for young Oklahoma women to witness.

“We forget that breaking barriers means we had to break something,” Pittman said. “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.”

SHARE
Sarah Beth Guevara is a graduate student in the Gaylord College at the University of Oklahoma after obtaining her undergraduate degree from the same institution. She is part of the Facebook Journalism Project and part of the POLITICO Journalism Institute of 2020. She was previously a multimedia journalist with KSWO in Lawton, Oklahoma, and interned with the Enid News & Eagle. She is from Magnolia, Arkansas.
Bennett Brinkman is a journalism student within the Gaylord College of the University of Oklahoma who is expected to graduate in 2022. A native of Edmond, Oklahoma, he is currently part of Gaylord News in Washington D.C.
Joseph Tomlinson was born and raised in Tulsa, Oklahoma. He is a senior journalism major at the University of Oklahoma and is a Washington correspondent for Gaylord News.