Willie Bellamy III woke his 12-year-old son early Saturday to leave Columbia as the sun rose and gathered with others at the Baltimore offices of 1199 SEIU United Healthcare Workers traveling to the 50th anniversary celebration of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech at the March on Washington.
Bellamy's mother suggested the trip as a way for three generations of the family to commemorate a day that led to huge gains in civil rights, particularly for blacks. Bellamy thought honoring history would be important, but, like many of the people who gathered Saturday, felt more needed to be done to create the world dreamed of by King.
"We've got to end racial profiling," he said. "Any black man, not matter what social class he comes from, has experienced that."
Tens of thousands of marchers converged on Washington to celebrate the anniversary of King's speech and to urge action on jobs, voting rights and gun violence.
"We believe in a new America. It's time to march for a new America," civil rights leader Al Sharpton told the predominantly black crowd from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.
Sharpton and other speakers paid tribute to King and other civil rights leaders for progress over the past five decades that led to significant gains, including Barack Obama's election as the first black U.S. president. Saturday's march kicked off a series of events, to culminate Wednesday with a speech by Obama.
Bellamy said he hadn't felt the need to tell Jaylon, groggy and reluctant, about what he was about to experience.
"Just to have him there, to be aware of how many people this has had an impact on," he said. "That's the point."
If the original March on Washington coalesced around King's speech, this one found a unifying theme in Trayvon Martin.
The Florida teenager's face was everywhere; it adorned shirts alongside images of Martin Luther King Jr. and Obama. Dozens of young black boys and girls wore hooded sweatshirts, an homage to Martin, who was shot and killed in his Florida neighborhood after walking to buy a pack of Skittles candy. A jury ruled that George Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch volunteer, had acted in self-defense after a trial that stoked racial tension.
But the medical and service workers from 1199 SEIU who boarded the buses from Baltimore also held signs advocating a higher minimum wage, restoration of the Voting Rights Act, and equality in education.
The crowd in D.C., likewise, championed a wide array of causes. The speakers, including Martin Luther King III, King's oldest son, and Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. focused on racial and income equality, which resonated with the Baltimore contingent.
Racism "is not as out there in the same way," said Frances Smith, who began attending an integrated school near Patterson Park when King made his famous speech. "You don't see it the same way, but it's there in how we get paid or what jobs we can get or how we might be looked at by the police."
Robert Matthews of East Baltimore never graduated from Dunbar and instead served in the Navy, returning to join the first march. His experience abroad emboldened him to fight for equality — for himself and others. He'd stopped in Norfolk, Va., before shipping out, only to be denied service at a restaurant.
"I'm about to go fight for our country, fight for you, and you can't even give me food that I am going to pay you for," the 70-year-old said. "Then we get over there, and in so many places in the world we didn't face any treatment like this. I thought, it can't be this way. You'd can't do this to people — any people for any reason."
This time, he advocated for income equality and gay rights.
"That's not something that'd been in my life, and I think God ultimately will have to judge them, but that is not for us," he said. "We need unity, for everyone, and support, no matter their sexuality. That is what I learned from the war, from hearing Dr. King."
The current of discontent he feels running through Baltimore, where he still lives, doesn't exist purely because of skin color. Oppression, he said, takes other forms.
"What's wrong with our world now is that you have the people making millions complaining they can't make more. That's the issue, not who somebody loves. Too many people don't care how other people make ends meet. That's a world I can't let stand."
The Baltimore contingent scattered into the crowd when it arrived at the National Mall, some looking for prime seats to listen to speeches while others explored and listened to pitches from other groups.
Bellamy, his son and his mother, Theresa, followed a long trail of people curving away from the Reflecting Pool, waiting in line to see the memorial dedicated to King looking out over the Potomac.
"That was powerful, to be able to do that with my son," he said. "Every person, no matter what race, should take the time to do that and to think about what was said."
Reuters contributed to this article.
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