CNS – Martin Luther King Jr. Day was celebrated Monday with the 23rd annual Kingdom Day Parade in South Los Angeles, a volunteer effort at a Gardena school and events in Santa Monica, Pasadena and elsewhere around the Southland.
More than 3,000 people—including marching bands, drill teams, dance groups, equestrian units and elected officials, among them Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa—took part in the 2.5-mile parade along Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard from Crenshaw Boulevard to Leimert Park.
Cal State Dominguez Hills President Mildred Garcia was the grand marshal. Parade founder Larry Grant said he chose Garcia because of the impact he believes she will have on the educational success of the region’s diverse population.
“Like Dr. King, she is breaking down barriers for women and minorities while continuously striving towards the best in education,” Grant said, adding that the parade’s grand marshal is traditionally someone making a difference in the community.
Garcia became the first Latina president of a Cal State campus in August.
“Dr. King was such an inspiration to me growing up that my career in education has been largely shaped by the ideals of social justice, racial unity and equality he so passionately promoted in his lifetime,” Garcia said. “To have the opportunity to represent a parade that pays homage to his legacy is a privilege.”
Actor Jermaine Williams, part of the cast of the film “The Great Debaters,” was the celebrity grand marshal.
L.A. Works, a volunteer action center, heeded the call to make Martin Luther King Jr. Day “A Day On … Not A Day Off” by painting murals and creating green spaces at 135th Street School in Gardena, while students will learn about equality and King’s works and vision.
A celebration of King’s life at the World Culture Auditorium in Santa Monica included a keynote speech by Baha’i Faith spiritual leaders Firuz Kazemzadeh and Wilma Ellis, a community involvement fair, inspirational readings, music and the presentation of scholarships.
The Kidspace Children’s Museum in Pasadena held a multicultural festival in honor of King’s birth, including a pinata ceremony, folklorico performance and interactive games, Native American dancers, ceremonial traditions from Europe and Asia and a finale of African music and dance.
Performances of “Living Voices: The Right to Dream” the story of a Black man’s coming-of-age in Mississippi during the 1950s and 1960s—combining theatre, video and live interaction—was presented at The Museum of Tolerance.
In Orange County, UC Irvine began its Martin Luther King Jr. celebration with a student and community volunteer event in support of the Second Harvest Food Bank, a program to feed the hungry.
The Southern Christian Leadership Conference of Greater Los Angeles and the SCLC Dream Foundation held the 31st annual “Martin Luther King Jr. Birthday Celebration Dinner” at the Millennium Biltmore Hotel.
Comedian and activist Dick Gregory was the keynote speaker and receive the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Award.
Other honorees were Danny Bakewell Jr., the chief operating officer of the Los Angeles Sentinel; Yvonne Wheeler, a senior field representative of the AFL-CIO; and the Rev. Lewis Logan II of the Bethel AME Church of Los Angeles.
Martin Luther King Jr. Day honors the slain civil rights leader, who in 1964, at the age of 35, became the youngest person up to that time to receive the Nobel Peace Prize. The holiday falls on the first Monday on or after his birthday—Jan. 15, 1929.
His 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.
King was assassinated April 4, 1968, at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tenn., at the age of 39.
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 “left an indelible mark on the United States and the rest of the world as he tirelessly strived to unite all members of society and demanded a nation where civil rights are not only upheld, but revered,” said Los Angeles County Supervisor Yvonne Brathwaite Burke.
“I believe that Dr. King would be very proud of some of the progress that has come about as a result of his efforts,” Burke said. “He would also encourage us to eliminate the present threats of war and world strife and to continue to eliminate the ravages of poverty, both in our country and other regions of the world.”
In his holiday proclamation, President Bush encouraged all Americans to celebrate King’s memory “by performing acts of kindness through service to others.”