Shorter MLK Parade Route Angers Southeast D.C. Residents

by: James Wright Special to the AFRO jwright@afro.com
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The annual D. C. parade to honor Dr. Martin Luther King is being shortened and that has upset some District of Columbia residents.

“The Martin Luther King parade is historic and important,” Philip Pannell, a longtime Ward 8 civic and political activist who served as the interim chairman and executive director of the Anacostia Coordinating Council, told the AFRO. “There are only two parades in Ward 8 and east of the Anacostia River.”

The Martin Luther King Jr., Parade is scheduled to take place on Jan. 15, 2018. (Courtesy Photo)

The other parade is the Congress Heights Community Association and takes place in early May.

“The parade is a great time to bolster community cohesion,” he said. “The kids who march in and play in bands come out and strut their stuff. What they have now is an eight-block parade that is a stroll and that is insulting.”

The parade started in 1979 and is the brainchild of “Washington Informer” co-founders Dr. Calvin and Wilhelmina Rolark, who was a Ward 8 council member from 1977-1993, and legendary talk show host and community activist Ralph Waldo “Petey” Greene. The event is scheduled to take place Jan. 15, starting at noon and will begin at Good Hope Road, S.E. near the Anacostia Park entrance.

Marchers will proceed south on Martin Luther King Avenue until Sumner Road and then on to the Barry Farm Recreation Center.

There is also a Peace Walk that will take place on that day, starting at 10 a.m. at 2500 Martin Luther King Jr. Ave., S.E. that will also end at the Barry Farm Recreation Center.

In the past, the parade has started in Anacostia and has gone as far south as the P.R. Harris educational facility that is close to the District-Prince George’s County border. Pannell said the parade has some inherent problems.

“It doesn’t give a lot of space for spectators,” he said. “What about space near the Maple View project?”

The $50 million Maple View Flats complex, which is currently under construction, will consist of affordable housing spaces for individuals and families as well as retail outlets and parking spots.

“Where are the people going to stand when the parade goes by?” he asked.

Pannell noted that the Gay Pride Parade that takes place in the DuPont Circle section of the city doesn’t have any problems with routes and planning.

“They don’t get the resistance that the MLK parade gets,” he said.

Most of Pannell’s ire seems directed at the Bowser administration and not the event’s planning committee that is chaired by Denise Rolark Barnes, publisher of the “Informer” and Stuart Anderson, a politically active Ward 8 resident.

The parade is a signature event in the District signifying King’s holiday. It is considered to be the oldest parade in the country honoring King.

A spokeswoman for the Bowser administration told the AFRO that the mayor wasn’t aware of the changes in the route and has deferred to the special events task force to work with the planning committee on the event. Anderson told the AFRO that the special events task force consists of District government agencies such as homeland security, police and fire departments, the Office of Risk Management, parks and recreation, the RFK Stadium Authority and federal agencies such as the National Parks Service and the U.S. Capitol Police. Plus, the advisory neighborhood commissions that are on the parade’s route have to approve the event.

Barnes told the AFRO in an email that the Bowser administration and the planning committee worked together for next year’s event.

“The route change was precipitated by the construction at St. Elizabeths where the new sports arena is being built,” Barnes said. “We proposed starting at Ballou, but for emergency purposes we were told the closing of MLK, Malcolm X and Alabama Avenues would cause a potential public safety issue and that in past years some residents complained that they were blocked in their neighborhoods due to the parade.”

Barnes said that the committee and the special events task force “spent a great deal of time looking for an alternative route that would work and agreed that starting at the entrance of Anacostia and ending at Barry Farm Recreation and Aquatic Center would work…for this year at least.” The King celebration will include a Jan. 6, 2018 prayer breakfast at Matthews Memorial Baptist Church and an essay contest for young District residents.

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