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Sharpton's 'Reclaim the Dream' event brings thousands to honor MLK
A highlight of the Dunbar event was the presentation to a local student, Leah Carr of Northwest Washington, of a $100,000 scholarship to Bethune-Cookman University in Florida. Carr, who has a 3.5 grade-point average, said she had been unsure that she could attend college because her mother struggles to keep food on the table.
Carr came to volunteer at the rally and was stunned when Bethune-Cookman President Larry Handfield presented her with a four-year scholarship. "I can't believe it," Carr said. "I came here to serve the people."
The mood of the rally was not always as light.
"We will not stand silent as some seek to bamboozle Dr. King's dream," said Marc Morial, president of the National Urban League. "We reclaim the dream of Dr. King for the 21st century. We reclaim this dream because we are here to say we must be one nation. We stand on the shoulders of our fathers and mothers, grandfathers and grandmothers."
Jaime Contreras, president of SEIU-32BJ, said those gathered at the Mall with Beck "represent angry white people and hate-mongering." He added: "We will not let them stand in the way of the change we voted for!"
Cynthia Butler-McIntyre, national president of the Delta Sigma Theta sorority, said the racial divisions between the rallies show that America has not yet become the "post-racial society" some claim it to be. "We came today to say that is a lie and the truth is not in it," she said.
Handfield pointed to educational inequities as a sign that King's dream has not been fully realized. "Part of the dream has become a reality but other parts have not," he said. "In this country still today there are cities where far less than 30 percent of black males are graduating to high school, therefore the dream is not yet complete."
Radio host Warren Ballentine quoted King when he told participants that both rallies' participants have something in common. "Dr. King once said, 'We may have come here on different ships but right now we're in the same boat.' "
Avis Jones DeWeever, executive director of the National Council of Negro Women, drew thunderous roars when she challenged those gathered to stand up for their place. "Don't let anyone tell you that they have the right to take their country back," she said. "It's our country, too. We will reclaim the dream. It was ours from the beginning."
The events resulted in no major skirmishes by mid-afternoon. Heat-related illnesses, as well as bee stings, twisted ankles, asthma attacks and issues with diabetes were reported; several people were transported to the hospital. None of the illnesses were considered serious or life-threatening, said D.C. Fire and EMS spokesman Pete Piringer.
The five-mile march organized by Sharpton started in the early afternoon. It snaked to the endpoint at the southeast side of the Mall, where the King Memorial is being built. Martin Luther King III was scheduled to speak there.
After walking several miles, former D.C. delegate Walter Fauntroy collapsed on a small stage where the King Memorial is to be built. He was taken to a local hospital for evaluation and was later released.
To the marchers, Sharpton said: "Let the line stretch. They already are going to say there were only 2,000 or 3,000 of you here. If people start heckling, smile at them. This ain't about you -- it's about Dr. King."
Staff writers Carol Morello and Lena Sun contributed to this report.