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Guillermo: To Talladega Band, What Kind of March Would MLK Attend?

You don’t have to be president to know how tremendous just being at an inaugural can be.

In 1993, I covered the Clinton inaugural, when many Americans and people of color were excited that, after 12 years of Republican rule, a new administration would bring new hope to America.

The highlight for me was hearing Maya Angelou read her poem, “On the Pulse of Morning,” which heralded the fresh start:

Here on the pulse of this new day,

You may have the grace to look up and out

And into your sister’s eyes, into

Your brother’s face, your country

And say simply

Very simply

With hope

Good morning.

It was cold in Washington, but Angelou’s words brought warmth to our nation.

Talladega College President Billy C. HawkinsTalladega College President Billy C. Hawkins

Again in 2009, I covered the first Obama inaugural, and again, there was a similar feeling that came with the new president’s vision of hope and change.

As in the Clinton inaugural, I stood out in the cold, but still had that similar feeling of America coming together for the first time in a while.

Fast forward to 2017.

The feelings that came in 2009, or even 1993, have been replaced. The poetry is gone. The music sounds like a dirge. Hope? There’s hope it won’t be as bad as the president-elect’s last tweet.

Instead, weeks before the inaugural, there is talk of repealing one of the greatest legislative legacies in history: the Affordable Care Act, which has made it possible for more than 20 million, previously uninsured people to get the medical care they need.

As we approach the MLK holiday, we are facing rancorous Senate confirmation hearings that will include consideration of Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions to head the Department of Justice as attorney general.

His confirmation would represent a threat to a great deal of the progress made in a generation. It’s the reason why leading up to the inaugural there have been more protests than celebration. Instead of hope, there is despair and dread for everything that is potentially coming in this new administration.

So what should the Talladega College Marching Band do — march in this inaugural parade?

What would MLK do? Get out the saxophones and blow?

Somehow, I don’t think so.

Talladega College President Billy C. Hawkins has taken an easy way out. Leaving it up to the kids.

Would the professors do the same in a history or physics class?

His written statement sounds like a man who aims to please.

“We respect and appreciate how our students and alumni feel about our participation in this parade,” Hawkins said. “As many of those who chose to participate in the parade have said, we feel the inauguration of a new president is not a political event but a civil ceremony celebrating the transfer of power.”

Yes, every inaugural is a celebration we didn’t have a coup in America.

But inaugurals aren’t simply about a “transfer.”

It’s about a transfer to something.

Hope? Change? This time, it’s something else. More like reversals, repeals.

Let’s hope Hawkins comes to his senses and makes the tougher choice.

Call the inaugural what it is. It is the celebration of an incoming administration that threatens everything a college founded by slaves stands for.

Let this be a teachable moment for administrators who must and should take a tough stand.

Marching backward is nothing to celebrate.

Emil Guillermo is a veteran journalist and commentator who writes for the civil rights organization AALDEF at

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