Having decided in August to cancel San Antonio’s Martin Luther King Jr. March this year, the City’s MLK Commission planned instead a virtual celebration to celebrate the civil rights leader’s local legacy.

“With Black and Hispanic communities being especially affected by the pandemic, we wanted to do what we needed to do to keep the San Antonio community safe,” commission Chair Renee Watson said Tuesday. But amid a tumultuous 2020 that saw the resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement locally and nationally, having no event at all felt unacceptable, Watson said.

“So we found an engaging filmmaker to tell a cinematic story.”

Dream: Rising Up for Justice, a 92-minute film by San Antonio native Ya’Ke Smith, will air at 10 a.m. Monday, Jan. 18, on local broadcast channels 4 (WOAI) and 29 (KABB), as well as the City’s TVSA, Facebook, and YouTube.

Watson is excited because people from all over the U.S. will be able to experience San Antonio’s march, billed as the largest in the United States, with as many as 300,000 people participating in years past.

“Every year we have a lot of people who usually come down from other states for our march, but they’ll be able to enjoy it with their families at home,” Watson said.

Smith, who has created films and miniseries highlighting the lives and struggles of Black Americans, said he received the call from Watson just over eight weeks ago, charging him with creating a cinematic retelling of the march and of King’s legacy in San Antonio.

“[The commission] wanted me to make sure this film retained the celebratory feel of the annual march – the performances, words from elected officials, messages from community members,” Smith said. “More than that, we wanted to make sure it retained the mission of Dr. King.”

For the past two months, Smith has been working to create a film that he said he hopes inspires action in the San Antonio community. One idea he kept in mind while making the film was to make sure King’s messages were not downplayed or simplified. King was a man of action who was out on the streets protesting for change, Smith said.

“When people see this film, I hope they see another side of Dr. King,” Smith said. “Everyone sees the ‘I Have a Dream’ Dr. King. but we forget about the Dr. King who still had work to do when he was assassinated.”

One highlight Smith said he is particularly excited about is the debut of a music video in the film that features a song about police violence.

Forgoing a single keynote speaker this year, the virtual event will include messages from three local San Antonio pastors, each focusing on a different, lesser-known MLK quote, Smith said.

It also will have messages from local Black Lives Matter advocates and activists; family members of Black men killed by San Antonio Police Department officers such as Debbie Bush, the aunt of Marquise Jones; and from Black community members such as San Antonio Fire Department Chief Charles Hood. 

With filming completed over six days, Dream will include entertainment acts from local dance troupes, rappers, hip-hop dancers, and gospel and jazz singers, Watson said. The normal march route was shut down to re-create the march for the camera, Watson explained.

“People will see a lot of different landmarks they may have never really noticed along the march path,” Watson said. “So it will feel as if you’re walking the route too.”

Smith said he hopes the film tells the story of where San Antonio has come from, how it’s gotten where it is today, and where it still needs to go.

“When people watch it, I want them to feel like they’re at the march,” Smith said. “I want it to charge you to get out into the community.”

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...