“We stand on the shoulders of a giant.” Such was the declaration of hundreds of Arizonans paying tribute to Dr. Martin Luther King with the annual holiday march Monday. In what’s become a yearly tradition, the marchers gathered at Pilgrim Rest Baptist Church in Downtown Phoenix for a two mile walk to Margaret Hance Park.

The event drew everyone from citizens to dignitaries such as Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton and ex Mayor Phil Gordon, to activists who fought for an M-L-K holiday for Arizona back in the 1980’s and ‘90’s. For Thomas Piller, King is no distant, historical figure but part of the fabric of his life, having grown up in Arkansas in the 1950’s, amid upheavals such as the forced segregation of Little’s Rock Central High School. He remembers it as a “tense” time and also recalls his own brushes with discrimination.

Denise (who withheld her last name) a junior high school student when King was assassinated in 1968. She says when the news broke that day, she recalls her white friends who were afraid blacks would retaliate against them. She says King and others who boldly challenged the status quo paved the way to a better life for her, and she says she owes a debt of gratitude to them.

This year’s observance comes as the docu-drama “Selma” plays in theatres. Some acknowledge the movie may not be 100-percent accurate, but they laud at as a must-see, they say,  for capturing the essence of King’s character and the turbulent, dangerous road to fighting for equal rights.

Six through eight year olds marching with their parents summed up Martin Luther king as a “special,” “kind” man who “gave us freedom.” Underscoring the belief that King wasn’t just a champion for black people, a prayer before the march interceded  for immigrants, women, gay people and the poor.

–Barbara Villa