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Peggy Armstrong came to Pioneer Park with her daughter and granddaughter Saturday afternoon to get her picture taken.

She and hundreds of others joined in the photo op put together by three organizations to capture the message of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Despite the 17-degree weather, Armstrong said it was important to show up, to pass on her beliefs to the next generations.

"If you, yourself, believe in things, then you carry it on to your children and your children carry it on to their children," she said. "And that's the whole idea of this."

Adults and kids, people of all colors, showed up for what Eran Thompson said he hopes will become an annual event. That's especially true on the 25th anniversary of the Martin Luther King holiday, Thompson said before the start of the event.

"As we sat back and thought about events we could do to celebrate Dr. King and his spirit, we were thinking about the ‘I have a dream' speech," said Thompson, chairman of the Billings group Not in Our Town. "This is Dr. King's idea, to see the community come together, every race, religion, creed and color, just come together and be neighbors. And so we're going to take a picture."

Along with Not in Our Town, the photo session was sponsored by the Black Heritage Foundation and Montana State University Billings, all of which are putting on events this weekend in honor of King.

Besides Thompson, other speakers included Yellowstone County Commissioner Bill Kennedy, Billings Mayor Tom Hanel and Billings ministers Steve Gordon and Mike Yakawich.

Participants also were asked to film a brief video to introduce themselves and say to the camera, "I am Billings!"

The trio of Armstrongs stood close together in front of the video camera.

"We are the Armstrong family and ..." CJ Armstrong said, with the other two chiming in, "I am Billings."

CJ Armstrong said she and daughter Jordyn have taken part in the Martin Luther King Jr. activities for the past several years.

"I wanted to teach my daughter the reason why we had the day off of school and work, that it wasn't just a free day," she said.

Armstrong joined Not in Our town a couple of years ago, and she helps with the group's King memorial events. The photo, she said, was another way to get involved.

"It's something we could do as a family, and it's something we could do with the community, and it's a fun experience," she said.

Jordyn, who called herself a history geek, said she enjoys anything to do with history.

"And I think it's really fun just to learn more about it and just have fun," she said.

Jeannette Vieg of Billings also showed up for the photo.

"I thought that it sounded like a great thing to do, to stand up and say here is Billings and this is how we feel," Vieg said.

Asked what Martin Luther King means to her, she said solidarity.

"He started it and he worked toward it and we need to keep that idea going," Vieg said.

Robin Ninefeldt said a lot of people think there's no diversity in Billings.

"If you look around here, there's a lot of it," she said.

Ninefeldt said King's message reminds her that all people have something in common.

"We have the same desires to be loved, respected, heard and to stand next to someone who supports you," she said. "I think that was really his message."

Pauline Turner, a black woman born in Alabama and a Billings resident since 1969, said she came with members of her church, All Nations, to join in the event.

Turner said she has seen many improvements for black people over the years.

"We all need to meet and love one another as God has loved us," she said.

As the group gathered at the north end of the park for the photo, a cluster of kids and adults held up letters to spell out "I am Billings."

"The spirit of Dr. King is about coming together as friends and neighbors, saying there's more that unites us than divides us, and saying we are Billings," Thompson told the crowd.

Before Gordon prayed, he told the group, "I wish you could see how you look from here because it's beautiful."

He prayed for "a reality of unity that will spread throughout the year."

Kennedy noted that a lot of the youngsters were sitting or standing near the front of the crowd.

"It's great to see the children out front because they're the next generation that we're passing this on to," he said.

Hanel added that hundreds of people coming together for the photo sets an example for the city, state, the country and for other countries.

"We welcome diversity, we welcome everyone to Billings, and the heart you share today in this cold weather is just a shining example of all of that," he said.

A photographer on a ladder spent a few moments directing everyone to their places. Then she snapped a couple of pictures, the crowd cheered, and everyone quickly dispersed to find a warm place to thaw out.

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General Assignment and Health Care Reporter

General assignment and healthcare reporter at The Billings Gazette.