By Cecilia LaFrance 1.21.2019
Mark Williams, age 33, strides beside his girlfriend, Jacquie Link, and son. Beyond the thousands of bodies and raised signs in front of them, the Front Range of the Rocky Mountains fills the backdrop between Denver’s business-lined street. Williams diverts often from the main stream of marchers in the annual Martin Luther King, Jr. Marade. He sees a relative or a friend. “How you doing?” He calls. In the spirit of the day, he poses with Jacquie and one of his eight kids for a picture with stoic marcher carrying a poster of King.
“This is me.” Williams’ proud chest expands. “We don’t get this kind of love but once a year.” Raised in the Five Points area, East High School turf, Williams remembers grander celebrations of the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday. “Five Points used to block off streets and do a barbecue. They don’t do that anymore.” The shoulders on Williams’ stout body canter with each step. He squints under his straight bill. His loose pants stack over his classic Reebok. “Back then, Five Points was all black folks. No black folks now.” Williams keeps pace with the African American dominated parade. “All the white people pushed us out. We have to move to Aurora. We have to move out.” His brow furrows. “That’s life now.” The feel of community is lost, communication hurt, along with support for each other, he says. The homogeneous neighborhoods along Colfax and around Denver broke up. Gone are the days where if he was looking to talk to someone, he could drive to an area and be within a 5-block radius of finding them or someone who knew where they were.
The crowd slows ahead, and Williams’ son drops Jacquie’s hand to race to the Caucasian police officer standing watch at a cross street. The body camera strapped to the officer’s uniform angles down with his body as the officer accepts the youth’s proffered hand. “He wants to be a cop.” William waits patiently. The gesture is repeated at each presented opportunity. Colorful plastic letter blocks on a choker around his neck spell out his second oldest daughter’s love for him. “I love being a dad. It gives me reason not to want to get in trouble.”
Williams has the same goal for his kids, staying safe. It’s part of why he’s walking today. “We didn’t have to worry about shootings at schools.” Violence leads to confusion, he says. “Kids not knowing who to depend on.”
Along the 3-mile route from the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr statue in City Park to the Voorhies Memorial west of the State Capitol Building, opinions boast from cardboard posters and t-shirts: “Fuck R. Kelly,” “Make America Great Again,” and “Sorry About Our President.” Latinos, women, people with disabilities, eco-activists, a transgender group and other representatives peacefully exercise their freedom.
Williams’ present life is complicated, a plumber by trade and recently let go by his employer. He’s trying to be the father he wants to be. He hopes for change. As for him and his family, the hope is to get out of Aurora, buy property and land. “Have a home of my own.”
The March moves closer to the Capitol. Williams melds back into the walking force to be with his friends. “We have to try to keep the culture going.”