By Grace Gunderson, AmeriCorps member '16-'17, City Year Sacramento, Fern Bacon Middle School

As per tradition, the city of Sacramento came together to commemorate Martin Luther King Jr. Day with a 6 mile march to the Convention Center. Undeterred by cold weather and traffic, cars began lining up to enter the send-off space as early as 7:30 in the morning. From my spot in the parking lot as a traffic controller, I greeted group after group of smiling faces. Folks came bundled in blankets, clutching coffees and cocoas, many with signs bearing Dr. King’s famous face and words.

“City Year!” some of the children shouted excitedly when they saw us, as if they’d spotted a celebrity.

Others were unfamiliar with our yellow jackets, but commented how nice it was to see a group of young people helping out and being active within the community. “You are our future,” one man reminded me solemnly. “Don’t forget that.”

Before the march began, the event coordinators read off a list of all the volunteers and organizers present. It included churches, synagogues, girl scout troops, AmeriCorps teams, groups of co-workers, students, and bands – not to mention all the families. Once the float arrived the group of thousands swelled from the parking lot and spilled out after the procession in a glorious mess of balloons, music, and community.

As we walked, folks cheered us on from sidewalks and front porches. Cars honked their encouragement as they drove by. Dogs and children frolicked, weaving through the crowd with total abandon. A group of men donned in bright outfits played their guitars as they walked, and started a sing-along. With each block that we marched closer to downtown, more and more people seemed to join us.

Over it all, the familiar and contemplative face of Dr. King watched us from the signs community members carried high. Like many, I’m sure, I took a moment to wonder what Dr. King might be doing or saying were he alive today. Would he be disappointed at our lack of progress? Discouraged that we are still so far from a world where people are judged solely by the content of their character?

As we reached the Convention Center, I took a last look at the group of people I’d marched with for the past 6 miles. I saw a little boy riding on the shoulders of a police officer. I saw mothers and fathers holding the hands of their children, and friends taking pictures together. Then I rounded up for a final circle with the diverse, incredible group of young leaders I get to call my fellow City Year AmeriCorps members. I can’t help but imagine this is exactly the sort of comradery Dr. King was envisioning when he made his famous speech.

One of his oft quoted lines is: “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” Today, I felt truly honored to stand in the love and the light with my community.

No, Dr. King’s dream isn’t a reality yet and it’s okay to be disappointed about that. We’re not there yet, but we are on our way.

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