Paradegoers reflect on life, legacy of MLK

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By Shirley Hawkins

Contributing Writer

SOUTH LOS ANGELES — As the sky cleared of rain and the sun broke through the clouds Jan. 16, spectators attending the 38th Kingdom Day Parade applauded the participants and reflected on how the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s legacy has impacted their lives.

Davon O’Steen, a drum major for George Washington Prep High School who was dressed sharply in a crisp, white uniform, was busy inspecting the band before the parade started. Pausing, he  said, “King was an inspiration for people of color. He served as a blueprint to stand up for what is right.”

The Blue Angels Drumline and the Blue Royalty Dance Troupe flew in from Brooklyn, to participate in the parade.

Flaunting royal blue costumes, the troupe excitedly stepped off their charter bus and marched down the parade route as they smiled brightly and vigorously waved their pom poms.

“This is the largest Kingdom Day parade in the United States and the girls were excited to participate,” said Sheila Baker, the girls’ chaperone, a Brooklyn-based teacher for 35 years. “They raised money for the registration fees, the airplane fare and also raised money to stay in an Airbnb.” 

Contemplating how King had impacted her life, Baker said, “King has inspired me all of my life to be of service to my community and my family.” 

It was the first time in three years the parade was held on the third Monday in January, the federal holiday commemorating King’s birthday. The three-mile parade began at Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, just west of Western Avenue, proceeded west to Crenshaw Boulevard and then south to Vernon Avenue, concluding near the K Line’s Leimert Park Station.

The theme was “Making America the Last Best Hope of the World.”

The grand marshal was George Fatheree III, the leader of a team of attorneys who secured the return of Bruce’s Beach to the descendants of Willa and Charles Bruce nearly a century after it had been taken by Manhattan Beach as a result of racial animus.

Craig Thompson, who rode on the float representing the AIDS Project LA Health Center, called the holiday “an opportunity to become an ally and to show support for King’s dream.

Walter Brooks, 58, who enjoyed the festivities from in front of his King Boulevard apartment, reflected on King’s impact on his life. 

“He inspired my single mother to move with five kids from Texas to California in search of better opportunities,” he said. “My mother was a real rebel. I recall she even marched in honor of Dr. King.”

Jasaundra Miller, who was socializing with her neighbors as the parade marched down King Boulevard, admitted that she had been looking forward to watching the parade for months. 

“Today is my birthday, one day after Dr. King’s,”  she said proudly. Asked how King had impacted her life, she said, “King was a powerful man who spoke for his people and his dream will continue.”

Patrick Covington was enjoying the high school bands and the drill teams but strongly felt that today’s young people did not respect King’s legacy. 

“We have to teach our young people what this man fought for and stood for. He sacrificed his life for us,” he said. “They don’t understand that. They are having a good time committing drive-bys, but King was about love and unity.” 

Shiquita Sargent, owner of the Long Beach-based Gravity Dance Company, credited King for inspiring her to become a business owner. 

“It was a dream of mine to open my own dance studio since I was a little girl,” she said. “Dr. King was very integral to the civil rights movement, and I would not even be in the position today to have a successful Black-owned business if it weren’t for him fighting for racial equality and equity in all of our communities.”

She said her dance students were  excited to take part in the parade, saying “They always love any opportunity to perform for the community.”

Melissa McGee, a reporter for KNBC Channel 4, said that this was her first time participating in the parade. 

“It is an honor to be in the parade for a man who represented love, peace and unity,” she said.

Spectators clapped for the Korean Dance Company dressed in pink, white and yellow gowns as they beat drums and showed off their synchronized dance moves.

The World Riders Bike Club flaunted their customized, gleaming bikes followed by members of the Slice of Life Car Club who dropped their car fenders low to the delight of the crowd.

“Dr. King meant equality,” said Joe Alexander, a member of Slice of Life who tooled down the parade route in his customized 1976 Cadillac.

Also participating in the parade was the USC Trojan Marching Band and the all-Black majorette team Cardinal Divas of SC as well marching bands from Crenshaw, Compton and Centennial high schools.

Other participants included equestrian units from  Horseback Riders Club and Urban Saddles, the Equine Advisory Council, Elite the Crenshaw Christian Center Drill Team and Drumline, young hip hop dancers from Tommy the Clown, and the Kim Eung Hwa Dance Company. 

Pkenty of local elected officials also took part in the parade including Mayor Karen Bass, Los Angeles County Supervisors Janice Hahn and Holly Mitchell, U.S. Reps. Maxine Waters and Sydney Kamlager, state Sen. Steve Bradford, Los Angeles City Councilmen Marqueece Harris-Dawson and Curren Price, and Los Angeles school board member George J. McKenna III.

Shirley Hawkins is a freelance reporter for Wave Newspapers. She can be reached at metropressnews@gmail.com.

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