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The 24th annual Kingdom Day Parade in Los Angeles wrapped up Monday with a renewed sense of vigor on the eve the inauguration of the nation's first president of African ancestry. Assembly Speaker Karen Bass--the state's first Black woman to become Assembly speaker and only the second Black to hold the leadership position after Willie Brown--led the parade as the grand marshal, while tens of thousands of cheering people lined Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard.
"This year is so exciting because we're 24 hours from inaugurating our next president, Barack Obama," she said January 19.
"All of us who were involved in his campaign from the beginning and the idea that he will be sworn-in tomorrow make today a glorious way to celebrate King's birthday."
Bass, D-Los Angeles, along with a contingent of local politicians, then headed for Washington, D.C., for the historic swearing-in. About 180 floats and numerous drill teams and marching bands participated in the roughly 2-mile parade. No major problems were reported along the parade route, which went west along Martin Luther King Jr. from Western Avenue, then south on Crenshaw Boulevard to Leimert Park. Los Angeles police Chief Bill Bratton, walking alongside Sheriff Lee Baca and some 300 police Explorers, said the crowd was the biggest he'd seen during his six years in Los Angeles.
Baca called the parade and tomorrow's inauguration "a dream come true" for King with "civil rights, humans rights and justice for all."
City Councilman Bernard Parks, formerly the city's second Black police chief after Willie Williams, told ABC7 in a pre-taped interview that the parade was a symbol of progress and that King's greatest reward for having opened the door to later generations of Blacks was the installation of Barack Obama as president. Councilwoman Jan Perry, who is also Black, said King would be "shedding tears of joy if her were alive today." Laker Kobe Bryant said he was amazed at the patience and vision King had and praised him for blazing the path others to follow.
Colleague Lamar Odom said he used to visit his grandmother in Georgia, where she was born in 1923, and King was always in the house.
"Martin Luther King was one of those family members that never came to Thanksgiving dinner, but we always had a picture of him in the house growing," he said, adding that he was raised by a "lady from the South."
The King Holiday marks the start of Obama's Renew America Together initiative, which calls on Americans to serve their communities throughout the year. The public is being asked to help prepare and serve the evening meal at the Los Angeles Mission; distribute blankets made by elementary school students; make donations to food drives at the Museum of Tolerance, UCLA and various grocery stores; and join in an effort to collect socks and underwear for the homeless. Clean-ups were planned in Temple City, Van Nuys-Sherman Oaks Park, along Sunset Boulevard in Silver Lake and at various schools. A blood drive was held at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, and a collection of books was taken up for underserved children in Mombasa, Kenya, Long Beach's newest sister city. Other opportunities for volunteerism are posted at www.usaservice.org. Elsewhere around the Southland, Pasadena celebrated the King holiday at Jackie Robinson Park, and Santa Monica held its 24th annual celebration at the SGI-USA Auditorium, where an interfaith program, including inspirational readings, a performance by the Angel City Chorale, and a presentation of scholarships were held.
It also included a community-involvement fair. At USC, the inaugural Martin Luther King Jr. breakfast was held, commemorating what organizers described as the "transformative partnership between the Los Angeles Police Department and the African American community" since William J. Bratton became chief in 2002.
Martin Luther King Jr. Day was first celebrated as a federal holiday in 1986 under a law signed by then-President Ronald Reagan. King and George Washington are the only Americans with federal holidays celebrating their birth. King's activism in marches and speeches, most famously the "I Have a Dream" speech on the steps on the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C., on Aug. 28, 1963, helped foster the passage of civil rights laws and end segregation.
In 1964, at the age of 35, King became the youngest person up to that time to receive the Nobel Peace Prize. He was assassinated April 4, 1968, at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tenn., at the age of 39.