KINGSPORT — Standing in frigid temperatures outside City Hall, Ronnie Collins made his message clear: Martin Luther King Jr.’s legacy is alive and well in Kingsport.
The city’s 19th annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day Parade was held Monday afternoon in memory of King and his lasting impact on justice and equality. Collins, organizer of the event, led a bundled-up crowd in a peaceful walk down Center Street, with many participants carrying signs or banners promoting peace, unity and love.
After a 20-minute walk, the group came to a stop at City Hall, where Collins made closing remarks. Addressing the crowd, Collins praised the recent designation of a portion of Lincoln Street as the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Parkway, calling it “a momentous time” in the city.
Collins added that in three years, he hopes to see all of Lincoln Street renamed in honor of King.
“You can rename a street in the black community, but we didn’t ask for that,” Collins said. “We asked for a street to be renamed totally, all of Lincoln. … If we did not do this together, it would not get done.”
After the event, Collins answered the following questions.
Q: Did the cold weather impact the crowd this year?
A: “Last year we had around 200. This year we’re approaching 100, but I’m excited, because it’s cold, and when they come, we feel really good because that means they support what we do and they’re going to stand with us, cold or warm.”
Q: Why do you believe it’s important to commemorate King’s legacy with events like this?
A: “The Civil Rights movement never stopped, and the problem was that here in our area, it was 20 years, 30 years behind. So now we have caught up. … (We) talk about diversity, inclusion, equality, fair wages, fair jobs and giving opportunities to stay right here in Kingsport instead of our kids growing up, going to college and moving away. We would love them to have an opportunity to stay here … where they can get education, then get hired by the city or get hired in industry right here. So these are the things that we wanted, and this is what Dr. King was talking about. We need equal opportunity, as well as equal rights. So it’s been a great journey.”
Q: What do you hope people take away from the event?
A: “The answer to racism really is the love of Christ. He’s the only one that can get into the hearts of men and women to change the way we think, change the way we act, change how we are responsive to each other and bring togetherness. He talked about us being one. So when we use that as a theme, “The Answer to Racism is the Love of Christ,” we’re not just saying it. We believe that, because no matter what people do to us, it’s not what you do to me, it’s how I respond back. So we’re trying to teach everyone to not only support what we do nonviolently, but give people what they’re not expecting, and that’s love.”
Q: Do you think there are still lessons to be learned from King today?
A: “Absolutely. Unless we tell, teach and share, a lot of young people won’t know what this is. … I remember the Civil Rights movement. I remember seeing the “all white” this, the “all white” that. I remember all that, but these kids, they can see it written in a book or something, but you have to articulate and let them know that’s not the end. Things change, and what we have to do is do our part. Whatever that is, do your part, and that’s why we do this.”