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Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was a civil rights leader slain on April 4, 1968. (AFRO File Photo)

Preparations for one of the nation’s oldest and continuous processions dedicated to the memory of slain civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., are under way and event leaders are urging residents to get involved.

The 10th Annual Martin Luther King Jr. Peace Walk & Parade is scheduled to take place on Jan. 18 on Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue, S.E. The walk will begin at the 11 a.m. at the parking lot next to the headquarters of the United Black Fund and the parade will begin at 12 p.m. on the campus of St. Elizabeths East, with the viewing stand at the Living Word Church and the final destination at Leckie Elementary School located at 4201 Martin Luther King Jr. Ave SW.

Individuals and organizations interested in participating in the event can attend Saturday meetings until the day of the event at the R.I.S.E. Demonstration Center on the campus of St. Elizabeths East. Specifics of the peace walk and parade will be discussed and applications from organizations interested in participating are being accepted.

Stuart Anderson, a Ward 8 political and civic activist, serves as co-chair and logistics coordinator, and is encouraging representatives from District organizations to come to the meetings and work to make the event a success.  He said he expects 1,500-1,600 participants this year with thousands of people lining up along the avenue to observe the floats, marching bands, and dignitaries.

The initial parade started in 1972 by community activists Calvin and Wilhelmina Rolark and Keith Silver. However, it received some controversy in 2005 when former D.C. Mayor and Council member Marion S. Barry, who wanted to hold the parade in the warmer months. The parade was changed to a peace walk shortly after.

Silver still spearheads the annual procession with the assistance of Calvin Rolark’s daughter, Denise Rolark Barnes. The parade was part of a national strategy, at that time, to urge U.S. Congress to make King’s birthday a national holiday. The strategy worked. President Ronald Reagan (R) signed legislation designating the third Monday in January as King’s holiday in 1983.

Barnes said District residents should support the march and the memory of King, citing the words of a prominent anti-gang activist in the city. “Ron Moten said to me recently that there are very few things that are culturally ours in this city,” Barnes said. “We need to get the word out about the march and have people line up along the avenue.”

Radio and television personality Donnie Simpson, vocalist Blake Miles Hopkins, and civil right attorney Johnny Barnes have been designated as honorary grand marshals. It is a tradition that the District mayor, the city’s delegate to the Congress, and D.C. Council members from across the city participate in the parade.

However, there will be a slight change in participation this year. “Politicians will not be part of the peace walk,” Yango Sawyer, who has worked with Silver and Barnes on the parade for decades, said. “But if an elected official, such as a council member, wants to participate in the peace walk, we will respect their wishes. Candidates for political office can march in the parade but not the peace walk.”

Andre Byers, a resident of Ward 8, supports the event and is looking forward to attending. “I am absolutely planning to go this year because I didn’t attend last year,” Byers said. “I think the peace walk and the parade are great and it is a time for all of us to come together in memory of Dr. King. He did great things for this country.”

Louis Henderson, owner of the Civil Rights Café in Northwest Washington, said he will attend the event but it may be time for it to evolve. “The parade shouldn’t be limited to Southeast, there should be marches on Georgia Avenue and on 14th Street,” Henderson said. “It shouldn’t be limited to one area and people all over the city should have the chance to march on behalf of Dr. King.”

jwright@afro.com