Historic Thousands on Jones Street moral marches through Downtown Raleigh — known by the shorthand “HKonJ” — have brought hundreds to thousands of people out to the streets since 2007 to bring attention to issues affecting marginalized people.
This year, the 15th annual event has taken on a new form in order to limit the spread of COVID-19 as new variants of the virus that has sent the world into a global pandemic continue to spread across the country.
A motorcade with roughly 120 cars registered, led by a cortege symbolic of the death of injustice in America, made its way up Wilmington Street, then Fayetteville Street, finishing at the North Carolina State Capitol Saturday morning.
“This is one of the things that we put in place to give the sense that we are all coming together despite the pandemic that is going on around us,” said North Carolina NAACP President Dr. T. Anthony Spearman.
The motorcade serves as a precursor to the events taking place next week, said HKonJ coordinator Marcus Fairley.
There will be pre-rally events via Zoom on Monday and Tuesday. On Thursday and Friday are issue-based platforms and finally, the Moral March on Raleigh and the HKonJ People’s Assembly, which will feature Rev. William Barber, who started HKonJ when he was president of the N.C. Conference of the NAACP in 2007.
HKonJ unites NAACP members and other North Carolina social justice groups. This year, the theme of HKonJ is “Hope in Action.” People put posters in their car windows that advocated for justice in different forms for poor people and people of color, including health care equity, a higher minimum wage, an end to police brutality and voting equity.
Spearman said COVID-19 inequity is part of the larger issue of inequity in health care. He said he is encouraging anyone who can to get the COVID-19 vaccination. He has had his first shot and will get his second next month.
Spearman said the change in presidential administrations is special to organizations that come together for HKonJ. “To be moving out of and away from a terroristic regime and administration for the past four years and moving towards an administration that at least is saying that they want to unify us is certainly a measure that we resonate with.”
Pastor Steve Allen of Shiloh Baptist Church traveled from Greensboro to attend the motorcade. A graduate of Shaw University School Divinity School, he wore a jacket with the school colors Saturday morning. He also serves on the executive committee for local and state conference of the NAACP. Allen previously served as a Superior Court judge in Guilford County.
The insurrection in Washington, D.C., on Jan. 6 is a reason he feels people need to come out for events like HKonJ. “We see an unequal tapestry of justice,” he said.
Allen said he helps young people with criminal records find jobs and housing, and has been advocating for justice in the death of Marcus Smith, a Black man who died at the hands of Greensboro police in 2018.
Regan Brown is a nurse practitioner who used to volunteer for an open-door clinic at Urban Ministries in Raleigh before the pandemic began. She attended the motorcade to represent N.C. White Coats Supporting Health Care for All.
Brown said she has attended HKonJ for five years. She came to the motorcade to have her voice heard.
She said the pandemic has made health care inequities more evident. “I hope this COVID period will bring us into a time where everyone has healthcare.”