Freedom Comes From Within Us

It’s a cold, somber day in Denton. Gray skies set the dark mood for how an entire nation may feel. The back of the UNT Union is empty with the promise of being filled not coming soon enough. A young man is walking across the parking lot with a hoodie and backpack where a sign visibly sticks out. It reads “‘Injustice anywhere, is a threat to Justice everywhere.’ – Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.”

He has locs down to his shoulders and wrapped around his face to keep warm. He reaches the union doors and stands a lone body, taking on the bitter cold with a determination behind his eyes. Soon another body joins him. Then other bodies join them. More signs and posters seem to appear. Now, the once bitter chill warmed by body heat.

In their annual event, Denton residents and students marched through Denton in honor of MLK Day. They took on the cold temperatures under the centralized theme that “Freedom comes from within us.”

The event is a collaborative effort by UNT’s Alphi Phi Alpha, Fraternity Inc., The Denton Police Department, The Denton Black Film Festival, The MLK Recreation Center and many other local organizations. Starting at the Union, they march to the MLK Center. From there, organizers put on a program with a banquet after.

“If I had to put it in one word, I’d say ‘spark,’” said Alpha Phi Alpha President, Tolutope Falana. “Of course we’re here to commemorate a great man with an amazing legacy, but at the end of the day, within celebrating him, if it doesn’t spark you to want to continue his legacy and impact your community in the same realm that he did, then what are you doing?”

That’s the kind of message that they wanted to spread throughout the day. The diverse crowds held signs and flags as they huddled inside the union and heard beginning statements from organizers. Local Denton figures such as activist, Willie Hudspeth and Democratic candidate for Congress Will Fisher were in attendance to spread their messages.

After a brief prayer, the 45-minute march began. UNT Student, Daniel Landry the Third, and the first person at the event, believes MLK Day means carrying on a legacy.

“In my mind, we’re continuing a battle that has not yet been won. So, we’re taking time to remember everything the civil rights movement and what Dr. King has done for us.  We do it to live on, keep the fight going and remember the proud history we have. It keeps us moving forward for equality,” Landry said.

People locked arms and sang Negro spirituals as they moved through the city. It’s hard to imagine this same sequence happening lifetimes ago with resistance instead of a joyful nature behind those same songs. Fighting against the bitter cold of the day would never amount to the same fight our ancestors had to go up against. For some of us, they were our grandparents. For others, our aunts and uncles. For many more, our brothers and sisters.

Once at the center, chairs are lined up facing a stage set for the program. Musical acts, singing groups, and performances of all ages entertain for the evening. After trudging through the bitter cold, it’s the light at the end of the tunnel.

Keanna Stallings is the MLK recreation coordinator. She’s one of the organizers and worked tirelessly putting the day’s event together. MLK Day holds purpose for her.

“I truly believe in looking back to see where you’re going forward. I believe in this holiday and why we celebrate it. It brings the community together,” Stallings said.

Belief is the hope that keeps everybody who participated lively throughout the day. That same belief came from within everyone, black to white, who held on to the notion that this day is important enough to take that march.

In little Denton, TX, freedom came from within them and seemed to keep them warm when the world around them was cold.

Header image by Jessika Hardy.

Header layout design by Holden Foster.