The first family of the Eight District, (l to r) Bobbie and Bernard Parks, and Bernard Parks Jr. photo by Brian W. Carter
As the parade reached Leimert Park, another festival was happening: an array of booths and stages including two stages that appealed to a variety of musical tastes
Before 11:00 am thousands of Kingdom Day Parade fans had already packed the sidewalks along King and Crenshaw boulevards Monday to see city officials, celebrities and, high school bands play out this year’s theme “The Dream Continues to Live and Grow.”
January 16, 2012 marked the parade’s 27th trek down both South L.A. streets bringing people from different places and walks of life. The route began at Western Avenue, down King Boulevard and ended at Leimert Park where a subsequent festival took place.
And for the past nine years, as the annual parade ended in Leimert Park Village, hundreds of residents spent the remainder of the day enjoying the Martin Luther King Gospel Festival. The Gospel Festival was created in 2004 by Councilmember Bernard C. Parks, as a way of extending the festivities throughout the day, and also to expose residents to one of the greatest cultural treasurers in South Los Angeles–the historic Leimert Park Village. There are games, free health screenings, information from government agencies, vendors selling food and merchandise, but by far, the biggest draw is the music.
As always, parade participants consisted of community leaders including 8th District Councilman Bernard Parks (in whose district the parade was held); Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, newly-appointed city council president Herb Wesson; Congresswomen Maxine Waters, Karen Bass, Laura Richardson and Janice Hahn; Senators Curren Price and Rod Wright, BOE member Jerome Horton; Assembly-members Mike Davis and Steve Bradford; Council members Jan Perry and Eric Garcetti; Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky; Charisse Bremond-Weaver; Commissioner John Mack; L.A. Fire Chief Brian Cummings, Genethia Hudley-Hayes and a host of other elected officials, community organizations.
Law enforcement was represented by Sheriff Lee Baca; LAPD Chief Charlie Beck; and the California Highway Patrol. Schools and marching bands included Bunche, Dorsey, Crenshaw High, Bishop Montgomery and others from LAUSD, Compton USD and Inglewood USD. In addition there were many foreign dignitaries and visitors–from Haiti, Jamaica, Trinidad and Korea: some as onlookers and others participated in the parade. They all who came out to show their support for, and solidarity with, the South L.A. community in honoring Dr. King. The grand marshal for this year’s Kingdom Day Parade was Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, and he said, “The Kingdom Day Parade brings people of all races, religions, and creeds together to pay homage to the deeds and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. I’m proud to serve as Grand Marshall of the nation’s largest parade honoring Dr. King.”
Free concert ran on two different stages throughout the day, featuring a variety of music. The main stage, sponsored by Radio Free 102.3 KJLH featured more mainstream, contemporary hip-hop, rap and R&B acts, such as Alacatraz, Flesh & Bone and Margo Thunder. The “Radio Free” stage, generally drew a bigger crowd and a younger audience. However, with a community as diverse as South LA, Councilmember Parks and the City’s Department of Cultural Affairs teamed up to provide a second “Gospel Stage” (previously mentioned as the gospel festival) in the parking lot behind the Vision Theater.
“Music has played such an important role in Black history,” said Parks. “From the work songs sung in the fields by slaves, to church gospel, to Motown, R&B, Hip-Hop and Rap, we have a rich musical history, and I wanted to ensure we presented a good variety of music so that everyone who attended could find something they enjoy.”
The gospel stage featured performances by Rev. Alvin McKinney (jazz gospel), the Harmony Jazz Band (jazz), Victory Praise Dancers (dance), poet Tony Haynes, Adawee (African percussive, vocal & spoken word) and Shea Welsh (contemporary R&B). One of the entertainers who drew some of the loudest cheers, was Tyrese Gibson all the way down King and Crenshaw Boulevards and then on the KJLH stage.
The Los Angeles Kingdom Day Parade is said to be the largest in the nation and as always, there was a huge crowd of parade-goers of all colors and ethnicity. Many of the attendees, celebrities and elected officials voiced their feelings about the day with the Sentinel. Leonard Hall is one of those proud community members who shared his feeling about the day.
“It’s a representation of the Black struggle throughout the world,” said Hall. I’m here to represent Martin Luther King and everything he stood for.”
Jamie Marie Randolph echoed some of the same sentiments when asked what MLK Day meant to her. “This day is about bringing people together and having a love and understanding of community, no matter who you are.
“We’re all here together and enjoying this day. It’s about humans at the core of themselves.”
“I looked at this day as a holiday itself, not so much as a parade, as being a demarcation and a reminder of what happened before,” said Jason Sugars. “So we can remember to continue making progress towards something that still quite a distance off as far as equality for everybody.”
Sandra Tolbert grew up during segregation in the state of Alabama and shared some of the inequalities that she saw
“We’re not there yet but we’re coming, said Tolbert. We’re progressing. My grand-baby is 10-she goes to school with everyone.
She’s my own version of a rainbow quilt-she has my Black [heritage], my mother’s Cherokee, her mother’s Latino, her grandmother’s Japanese-she’s my rainbow quilt. She’s precious because she is the possibility of what can happen.”
“Today Martin Luther King reminds that no matter what color, creed, where we come from, that we’re just one,” said Vikki Rodriguez.
Actress Jackeé Harry and celebrity/radio show host Mother love shared their feelings about the day.
“A lot of people aren’t aware but this is a day for us to be proud,” said Harry. “[Martin Luther King Jr.] handed down a legacy that we shall never ever forget-that’s non-violence, getting things done and being aware of who you are on Martin Luther King Day.”
“I get to stand on the shoulders of greatness and continue the legacy,” said Mother Love. “Each and every one of us, as African Americans and as human beings, are standing on the shoulders of the legacy of a man, who was willing to lay down his life for his friends, and that’s who we are.
“We have to stop being… afraid of speaking up for what is truth, right, real and honest.”
Congresswoman Maxine Waters shared her feelings with the crowd–both on stage and off. She reminded people about the power of the vote and in coming together as a community.
“Martin Luther king Day is a day to celebrate the life and times of Martin Luther King and appreciate his contribution to all of us. It is also a day that we must assess who we are, what we’re doing and whether or not we’re carrying out the dream.
“I ask people to challenge themselves, to ask the question of themselves, “Am I carrying out the dream?”
As they rode down Crenshaw Boulevard, Councilman Bernard Parks and wife, Bobbie Parks greeted crowd. Parks had this to say about MLK Day.
“Martin Luther King Day means we should recommit ourselves to the principles… his concerns about safety, peace [and] poverty. It’s about human rights, not individual rights, but human rights. That’s what his main issue was about.”