Martin Luther King and the Homeless

Posted: January 22, 2008 in personal rants

Happy MLK day!

I am missing a MLK vigil right now because I didn’t plan out my day well enough, though the unexpected is hard to plan. Yet I did go to a MLK march yesterday that takes place every year in downtown Gainesville. The parade starts right in the heart of downtown. If you have ever been to Gainesville, you know how beautiful it is with trees almost everywhere you look, and buildings that don’t rise above them. If you’ve been to Gainesville you also know that it’s packed full of homeless people. What you might not know though, unless you’ve spent a decent amount of time here, is that we are also the “meanest city in America” when it comes to policies regarding the homeless. Almost all the homeless people in Gainesville take up residency in the woods, or in the downtown plaza, where the MLK parade starts. This is the backdrop of yesterdays festivities enhanced with the smell of bbq, blaring reggae music, politicians campaigning for city elections, and tons of smiles.

It was a good day. But as I was marching I could not help but notice an irony- The march was being escorted by the police. Now this is a good thing, and some would rightfully call it progress, but I just couldn’t shake the thought that not too long ago in America- and in Gainesville particularly- sirens and cop cars would send chills down the backs of black people and of activists. They would not first think that the cars are helping them civilly walk through the streets, but that the police were there with the pepper spray, bats, and guns. After listening to this thought play in my mind and listening to Dr. King’s speech on civil disobedience play over the loudspeakers it occurred to me that one of the marchers in the parade was shot for marching the same “parade” in Gainesville as a white pastor during the 60’s.

Many things go on in the downtown plaza. The city organizes community gatherings, radio stations put on free concerts, activists feed the homeless and hungry daily, street and commercial artists sell their work, and festivals take peoples minds off the realities of life. Some of the events seem to be attended better than others, such as the MLK parade. Some things are left for smaller crowds, such as protests and the daily food distribution to the homeless. Perhaps thirty or forty years from now these less attended events will gather the same crowd as the MLK parade does. Perhaps the homeless will march in thankfulness of the city’s well- earned kindness. Perhaps the plaza will be a place only for bbq and reggae music, and not the only place that a homeless girl can find to lay her head.

Perhaps one day.

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