FAYETTEVILLE — Mike Moses Jr., a physical education teacher and girls basketball coach at St. Pauls High School, had been a part of several marches and peaceful protests recently in the wake of the deaths of African American people as the result of police violence, but none felt like the one in which he took part Friday.
Moses attended the March on Washington, a commemoration of the 57th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have A Dream” speech, and brought back with him a renewed vision of his guidance to the next generation of African American students that look up to him either in the classroom or on the court.
Unlike some of the past marches in which he participated, Moses felt the importance and the energy of the March on Washington as soon as he crossed over the Potomac River.
“It was surreal. I felt the energy as soon as I got into D.C. and got to the hotel,” Moses said.
The march drew more attention in the aftermath of several documented cases of African Americans losing their lives in law enforcement custody in recent months.
Moses said he initially was interested in attending the annual march, but those events inspired him to ensure nothing stopped him from being there.
Basketball is a common topic for Moses when he is around his family, including his brother DeAndre Haynes, an assistant coach for the University of Mayland’s men’s basketball team. Moses met Haynes at the D.C. hotel the night before the march. But that night, there were more important things discussed.
“We talked little about basketball. We talked about rights. We talked about what was going on and how it was impacting our players and our students that we mentor,” Moses said.
Just as emotions swept over Moses as he came into the capitol, stepping onto the streets of Washington, D.C., to march in the near 100-degree heat to the Lincoln Memorial gave rise to strong feelings in him.
The diversity of the crowd was an eye-opener.
“It reminded me, since we are in such negative times, that you can almost forget that other races are with you,” Moses said. “There are other people out there that are getting outraged at Black people being killed by police.”
Speakers at the Lincoln Memorial, on the same steps where King gave his famous speech on the same date in 1963, included the Rev. Al Sharpton, Martin Luther King III and family members of several victims of police violence. Some of the situations he had not heard of because of the lack of national news, Moses said. But future research proved a need for attention for these victims.
For Moses, one of the biggest takeaways from the scene was the history.
“Out of all of that, just being in the same place where Dr. King spoke 57 years ago was magical,” Moses said. “It was a different type of energy. You could feel that everyone was on the same page. Most of all, it was peaceful. Nothing crazy was going on.”
Now back home in North Carolina, Moses said what he witnessed brought about a revival of what he tries to be for his community, that includes the students he teaches and coaches.
“It gave me confidence to continue to stand for what I stand for. When I’m at St. Pauls, I always talk about our African American students knowing where they come from and knowing their history,” Moses said. “Sometimes you need a recharge, and that was my recharge.”
Moses hopes that being at the event that brought out thousands marching for equality opened the eyes of those who look up to him. For him, it’s about letting the younger generation see someone who looks like them fight for the good of the entire African American community.
“I just want to be able to speak to my students and my players and let them know that the world is big and you can affect it, but it’s going to take time,” he said. “We have to start, for one, the healing process and, for two, the educating process for the kids that are behind us. As an educator, a coach and a mentor, I feel as though it’s important for me to be a part of these things so I can relate it to the kids I mentor.”
Jonathan Bym can be reached at 910-816-1977 or by email at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @Jonathan_Bym.
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