Racial and other societal divisions persist despite Supreme Court decisions, the civil rights movement and the idea of America itself, said the speakers, singers and marchers for the annual Martin Luther King-Equality Day celebration in Casper on Monday.

Those divisions hurt everyone, not just the people on the receiving end of discrimination and those struggling to overcome it, two local professors said.

People can waste the opportunities that they receive, said Evin Rodkey, a professor of anthropology and sociology at Casper College.

"But if they're not given the opportunity in the first place, all of the kind of advances in society that we see are going to be limited, because fewer people are part of them," Rodkey said.

He, Arielle Zibrak and her stroller-riding infant son Jonah Pederson attended the Equality Day service at First United Methodist Church.

"There's a lot of structural racism that exists in our society that's not necessarily the kind we think of when we think of the days of segregation or Jim Crow, where there might be one water fountain that says 'white' and one water fountain that says 'colored,'" said Zibrak, a professor of English at the University of Wyoming-Casper College.

"There's also the kind of discrimination that exists just when people pass each other over for job opportunities, when there's mass incarceration that's based on a particular race or socio-economic bracket in this country, and in all sorts of other ways where I think for the most part that people don't necessarily feel safe as citizens in this country," she said. "I think that's increased in the current political climate."

Nurieh Glasgow, an organizer of the event, said the march from City Park to the church, and the memorial service attracted several hundred people, a larger crowd that in recent years, .

James Simmons, president of the NAACP, said the organization has been in Casper for 67 years. "The march symbolizes the nonviolent, passive protest for justice," Simmons said.

Simmons asked if anyone from Casper City Council was in the audience.

No one responded. No Natrona County Commissioners attended, nor did any legislators. (The Legislature does not take time off from its session for Equality Day, but it does take time off for Presidents day.)

Simmons then introduced keynote speaker former Mayor Daniel Sandoval.

America started with a revolutionary idea, starting with an act of treason with an eye to a higher goal, "the bewildering notion that everybody is equal," Sandoval said.

Referring to the biblical book of Ezra, King Cyrus of Babylon freed the Israelites from slavery about 500 B.C., he said. "The king also mentions that diversity is good for culture and commerce, so he expects his free subjects to be tolerant of each others' differences.".

Americans are proud of their history, but still fought a civil war 2,500 years after Cyrus freed the Israelites, he said.

"Winning the Civil War and changing the law saying people were free does not change the individual heart," Sandoval said. "The stain of racist exploitation continued for another century."

Brown v. Board of Education in 1954 said "separate is unequal," and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 brought legitimate civil rights legislation, he said.

Monday's namesake was willing to be arrested, beaten and killed for the truth, Sandoval said.

"Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., knew that the only way to change people's hearts is through nonviolent resistance," he said. "The courage of peace is quiet and true and selfless. Because if we don't fight back, if we brave the lashes while declaring truth, ... brutality will expose the deceivers."

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