Statement on the MLK Parade

In light of the recent coverage of our planned parade this upcoming January during the Martin Luther King, Jr. Weekend, we, as members of Community Anti-Racism Education Initiative (CARE) wanted to clarify our reasons for hosting such an event. First, we want to point out that this is not a last-minute venture or spur-of-the-moment decision to hold the parade. Rather, the choice comes as the result of years of thoughtful consideration as Lexington locals. We in CARE are people who live and work here in Lexington, who consider ourselves part of the community, who really believe in this town and its citizens. As members of the community, we have been troubled by the annual visits of people from outside of the region who sport divisive and hurtful symbols and claim ownership over the history and legacy of this town.

We firmly recognize that Lexington is a historic place, one that has hosted many prominent actors during the Civil War, including both Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson. We think that history should be commemorated, acknowledged, and celebrated as part of who we are and where we come from. But we also prize inclusivity and community as our core values. To do this, we seek to use the historic weekend to bring people together to celebrate our community both past and present. This means, however, recognizing that certain symbols such as the Confederate battle flag, while meaningful, can also be deeply hurtful, a reminder of generations of enslavement and a war fought to extend an institution of human ownership. Some of us in Lexington are the descendants of Confederate soldiers and politicians. Others of us are the descendants of enslaved African-Americans. Still others come from differing countries, religions, and backgrounds. To parade a particularly divisive symbol can actively perpetuate the disunity and hurt caused by legacies of enslavement and racism. This is not the same as pretending the past didn’t happen; as an organization, we do not wish to pretend this area’s history did not occur. But we do recognize that symbols like the Confederate battle flag perhaps belong best in museums, where they can be commemorated, interpreted, and understood as the legacies of the era that came before.

What we envision as CARE is a space where all people feel welcome, but that welcoming involves gracious respect and compassion for each other. Part of that compassion involves acknowledging difficult and painful histories and endeavoring to make choices that are celebratory as well as inclusive. We have watched with increasing worry the divisive rhetoric not only in this recent election cycle, but in our own region more generally over the years, and we want to offer an alternative that embraces all members of our community while recognizing that symbols have meaning, histories exist as much in the present as much in the past. We recognize that change can be painful and frustrating, but we also know that we are a resilient and caring community. We are able to host two wonderful universities, a vibrant downtown, and a wide array of citizens, all of whom make Lexington the beautiful, unique place that it is.

We are not here to change anyone’s personal feelings about the history of the region. We’re not here to redecorate houses or rearrange lawns. What we do want, more than anything else, is to envision a Lexington that is inclusive, that has a rich and diverse history to celebrate, and continues to draw thoughtful, engaging people to its beautiful streets. This is why we hope you’ll join us in January for a community parade that celebrates not only the phenomenal legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., but all of the many things that make our community one in which we’re proud to live and work.