CSU community marks anniversary of ‘I Have a Dream’ speech with march and vigil

Nearly 300 participants took part in the DreamN2020 event at CSU on Aug. 28, marking the anniversary of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech. Photos by John Eisele/CSU Photos

Frustration, fear and a bit of hope spilled out on Aug. 28 as a half-dozen speakers from campus and the Fort Collins community addressed a crowd of nearly 300 participants in the DreamN2020 event on Colorado State University’s Oval.

The gathering and march marking the 57th anniversary of the iconic March on Washington and Martin Luther King, Jr.’s famed “I Have a Dream” speech drew a crowd that included CSU President Joyce McConnell and a number of other campus leaders, community members and area government officials.

The event, organized and led by CSU student veteran Julius Philpot, started with a recording of King’s complete speech and was followed by a mix of speeches and song. All attendees were wearing masks and most stayed for all speeches even when a light rain put a rare chill in the late August air. The group marched to Old Town, then returned to the Oval for a peaceful vigil before dispersing.

Recent events, including the death of George Floyd at the hands of the police in Minneapolis and the police shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wisconsin, fueled the emotions of the speakers.

Still fighting the fight

The CSU and Fort Collins community members gathered for the DreamN2020 event. Photo by John Eisele/CSU Photos

Philpot, discussing the impact of the pandemic on all aspects of life, said the weeks and months spent sheltering in place gave Americans a chance to think about life in their country.

“It gave people a chance to sit in their household and realize that racism still exists in this country,” he said. “I’m not proud to be in a country where people are still judged by the color of their skin. I think it’s embarrassing that we are still fighting that fight. There’s still so much to be done.”

Philpot then introduced a string of speakers, including a faculty member, a mom and a couple of students, whose emotion-charged words drew loud applause and shouts of support.

Janaye Matthews, a fifth-year student from Aurora, Colorado, studying electrical and biomedical engineering, said it wasn’t until recently that she learned the story of Elijah McClain, who lost his life in her hometown during a confrontation with police. She has always been involved – she’s a peer counselor at CSU’s Black/African American Cultural Center – but McClain’s story left her angry and frustrated.

“I’m tired of words – I want action!” she implored. “Let’s make something actually change.”

“I’m tired of words – I want action! Let’s make something actually change.”

— Janaye Matthews, CSU student

Melissa Edwards, associate director in the Office of Undergraduate Research and Artistry, spoke passionately about the need to vote in the upcoming election, but also wanted to provide perspective about life as a Black man or woman in America.

“There are people in the audience, including me, who understand that they might be the next victim,” she said. “That’s fear – and it’s not a good day when you wake up to that reality.”

More work to do

Several speakers referenced recent campus events when minority students felt marginalized. McConnell, who was 9 years old when King addressed the crowds in her hometown of Washington, D.C., and vividly remembers its impact, said campus leaders are working with students to create a more inclusive place where all feel welcome.

“This was a tremendous opportunity to celebrate Martin Luther King and all Black lives,” she said. “I’m proud of these students and what they have accomplished. We’ve already done a lot but we realize there’s more work to do.”