The city of Burlington welcomed local leaders from across the region to celebrate Martin Luther King Jr.’s life on Monday. 

The words of Reverend Mark Hughes, Vermont Racial Justice Alliance’s executive director, echoed throughout Burlington’s Richard Kemp Center, pleading for his community to help him continue the fight for racial equality and justice that King once led.

“This is a movement, this is not a game,” Hughes said. “This is something we do every day.”

He added that King’s message shouldn’t get lost in the day’s festivities. 

“It’s not about what happened at echo today, it’s not about what happened at unitarian yesterday,” he said. “It’s about what happens in here every day.” 

Across town, the Echo Leahy Center for Lake Champlain welcomed community members to learn about civil rights through musical performances, visual art and spoken word activities. 

James Lyall, the executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Vermont, put a cap on the celebration by emphasizing the work that still needs to be done to ensure a better tomorrow for minorities in the state. 

“There are still major disparities in this community, in this state and in this country,” he said. 

Kim Carson, Burlington’s newly appointed director of Racial Equity, Inclusion and Belonging, also spoke at the event. After Vermonters officially outlawed slavery in the state’s constitution and implemented annual Juneteenth festivities, she’s encouraged for potential future strides. 

However, she says institutional issues will take relentlessness to amend. 

“Policy, procedure but most importantly practice,” Carson said. “I would say in my research over time, what I noticed studying the legislative history with civil rights as i did my job at the judicial branch is from the 1700’s to civil rights and on, the things we have been fighting for have been relatively the same.” 

Hughes added that for significant societal changes to happen, words will not suffice. 

“It wasn’t just about ‘I had a dream’,” he said. “It was about standing up to political and economic power and speaking truth to power.”