For local residents who have participated in past Martin Luther King Day celebrations in San Antonio, home to one of the largest MLK Day marches in the country, Monday’s activities were a subdued sign of the times.

San Antonio resident and past marcher Christopher Mammen on Monday joined a small group of his friends for an MLK Day block party at Mark’s Outing, an Eastside burger restaurant.

“I was sad to see the annual MLK Day March was canceled. I was looking forward to it this year, but it was canceled for good reason,” Mammen said. “We saw this [block party] as another option to come out and support the community.”

Mammen said in the spirit of the day, he and his friends also tuned in for the beginning of the 2021 virtual march event, which premiered local filmmaker Ya’Ke Smith’s Dream: Rising Up for Justice. The 92-minute film aimed to celebrate the civil rights leader’s local legacy, Smith said last week.

Airing on local NBC station WOAI-TV and Fox-affiliated KABB, as well as the City’s TVSA and Facebook, Dream opened with an audio recording of King and showed various historical video clips of the civil rights leader. 

Smith’s film featured several musical performances; a poetry reading; a jazz performance; discussions on Black beauty, police brutality, and the pandemic; comments from local MLK scholarship recipients; and statements from local officials such as Mayor Ron Nirenberg, Councilwoman Jada Andrews-Sullivan (D2), Fire Chief Charles Hood, Police Chief William McManus, Bexar County Sheriff Javier Salazar, and Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff. 

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The film included remarks from local families affected by police violence; messages from three local San Antonio pastors, each focusing on a different, lesser-known MLK quote; and comments from San Antonio Spurs Head Coach Gregg Popovich on the recent presidential election.

“Martin Luther King Jr. is certainly an iconic figure in our American history,” Popovich said. “Without a doubt, you know he spent his life trying to make our country fulfill its promises of justice and equality, and at this point, I think, in some ways, he’d be very saddened by the [protests] of this last summer.”

Popovich added that he believed King would be proud of San Antonio for its multicultural, multiethnic annual march, and that he is glad to live in San Antonio where one of the biggest MLK Day marches takes place. 

Smith’s film shared historical insight about King’s life and death, how San Antonio got to where it is today as a multicultural hub, and what must be done to better the community.

“I invite you, during the course of this year, to make your voice heard,” Nirenberg said, “to use the spirit of Martin Luther King Jr. that we see in the streets every single day to lift this city up, to lift the people of this city, and to rise [a] better, stronger, more equitable, and more resilient city than ever.”

King’s message of love, unity, and justice rings especially true today, said Mark’s Outing owner Mark Outing. 

“What we’re trying to do here today [with this block party] is bring people together,” Outing said. “Troubling things have been occurring lately, and our country is more divided than ever. I think King would want us to respond in peace and come together.”

Attendees of the MLK Day block party socialize and eat outside of Mark’s Outing. Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

Block party attendee James Jones said even without the march, San Antonio can still work to be a shining light for the country this year, so long as people of the community come together to support one another.

“It’s all about loving one another,” Jones said. “That’s what it’s all about.”

Lindsey Carnett covers the environment, science and utilities for the San Antonio Report. A native San Antonian, she graduated from Texas A&M University in 2016 with a degree in telecommunication media...