Barbara Shannon-Banister lived in Wyoming, more than 1,000 miles from the epicenter of the civil rights movement — far from the Montgomery Bus Boycott, the sit-ins at lunch counters in Atlanta and the March on Washington. Yet she was deeply and personally affected by all of them.
“I remember when Rev. (James) Reeb was beaten in Selma, I lived across the street from his mother and father,” she said. “His wife said that was his avocation. He felt like that was something he had to do. A white man took the time to go to Selma to find out what’s going on, and gave his life. That’s tremendous.”
Banister herself was a part of the NAACP in Wyoming and participated in a march in Casper in Reeb’s memory. She said she remembers being reminded to respond to threats with nonviolence, a tenant of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s leadership in a movement that he modeled after the teachings of Mahatma Gandhi.
“The most difficult way to protest is to be civil and quiet if necessary,” Banister said. “We walk away holding hands and saying, ‘We shall overcome.’ That’s something we have to teach. In Selma, they were taught to do that.”
Aurora’s 30th annual Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. commemoration aims to do precisely that, said Bannister, who for decades has served as the head of community relations for the city and has been a longtime advocate for African Americans in the metro area.
With events being held through the month of January, this year’s commemoration is themed “The Promise of Democracy: Breaking Barriers and Borders.” This year’s celebration welcomes the Rev. John L. Thompson, who walked with King in support of civil rights. Thompson is the former senior pastor of Park Hill United Methodist Church in Denver and former chaplain for the Colorado Senate.
Aurora was the first city in Colorado to host weeklong events honoring the message of Dr. King.
Dr. King’s message of embracing diversity is an important one for the city, Shannon-Banister said. Aurora, which was recently ranked the 12th most ethno-racially diverse large city in the United States by the financial website WalletHub, is home to people from about 140 countries, and is the most diverse city in the state.
In September 2015, the city also unveiled a shiny, seven-foot-tall brass statue of Martin Luther King, Jr. beside the MLK Jr. Library at 9898 E. Colfax Ave. The statue shows King clenching a copy of his “I have a dream” speech in his left hand and holding out his right arm and hand with an open palm.
The city selected Virginia-based sculptor Jeff Hall to create the statue after reviewing dozens of applications from sculptors around the country. Hall, who has also created sculptures of other dignitaries including Vice President Dan Quail and the first president of Turkey, said that he drew inspiration for the piece from King’s bold personality.
— Aurora Sentinel Staff Writer Quincy Snowdon contributed to this story.