MLK Marade kicks off in City Park today; free dinner and demonstrations follow

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Editor's note: Today is Martin Luther King Jr. Day -- a federal holiday. The Westword office is closed, but we'll be posting occasional updates on westword.com today.

The country's largest parade in honor of Martin Luther King Jr. -- the Marade -- will kick off this morning by the MLK memorial in City Park in Denver, Colorado, a mid-sized city with a small black population, but a big record of fighting for equality.

Wilma Webb, then a state legislator, was instrumental in pushing to make MLK Day a holiday in this state; it took her four tries before the Colorado Legislature finally approved creating a King holiday in 1984. Today Wilma Webb will join other leaders -- including her husband, former Denver mayor Wellington Webb -- and thousands of other people for the Marade (she named that, too), which starts with a program at 10 a.m. and then will head to Civic Center Park.

From there, the action will move to the State Capitol until 1 p.m., with the signing of the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. yearbook.

The push for creating a King holiday wasn't just rocky in Colorado. Four days after Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated, Congressman John Conyers of Michigan introduced the first legislation to create a federal holiday. Three years later, petitions with 3 million signatures in support of a King holiday were presented to Congress -- but the legislation did not move forward.

States began taking action, though. In 1973, Illinois created the first state King holiday, and Massachusetts and Connecticut followed the next year. In 1979, the King Holiday bill finally began moving through Congress -- and was defeated in a floor vote in the House by five votes that November. Finally, in August 1983, the House passed the King Holiday Bill; it passed the Senate in October and was signed into law in November. By the time the first national King Holiday was observed on January 20, 1986, seventeen states -- including Colorado -- had official state holidays.

But the official Marade activities are just the start of the action today.

The 29th annual "Dinner for Those Who Hunger," a free meal hosted by Volunteers of America," will run from 3 to 6 p.m. in Sunset Park, 1865 Larimer Street; Sheryl Rene and Friends will entertain, with performances by Erica Brown and Lisa Bell. Find more information at voacolorado.org.

And the thirtieth annual Martin Luther King African-American Rodeo of Champions will ride into the National Western Stock Show at 6 p.m. Keep reading for the protest of police violence and details on "Unmasking Mass Incarceration." Survivors of police violence will be marching with the Colorado Progressive Coalition and other groups in the Marade. They'll be meeting in City Park just west of the Martin Luther King Jr. statue at 9 a.m. this morning, for a speech by Alex Landau, beaten by Denver cops four years ago during a traffic stop. During the march, they'll stop at the corner of Emerson and Colfax where Landau was beaten; Survivors' families, including Gale Waters, mother of Alonzo Ashley, will have a table at the corner stocked with literature about the groups' causes.

After the Marade, starting at 3 p.m. on the third floor of the Tivoli Student Union on the Auraria campus, the Colorado Progressive Coalition -- in collaboration with Jobs for Justice, Colorado Criminal Justice Reform Coalition, NAACP Auraria Chapter, Coloradans Against the Death Penalty, Drug Policy Alliance, American Friends Service Committee, the Romero Troupe and May Day Coalition -- will co-host Unmasking Mass Incarceration. In addition to speeches, the Romero Troupe will re-enact Landau's beating, and also illustrate the life of a homeless person.

Find more information on theUnmasking Mass Incarceration event here.

Have a tip? Send it to patricia.calhoun@westword.com. From our archives: "Alex Landau was pulled over for making an illegal left turn and ended up beaten bloody."

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