By MeKayla Pierre,
Howard University News Service
A seemingly endless trail of people drove, marched and danced down Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue in Southeast D.C. on Jan. 16 to celebrate the life and legacy of the civil rights leader.
They were also celebrating the return of the annual King parade for the first time since the start of the pandemic, and they only stopped to visit the refreshment tables lining the sidewalks.
Zabrina Ames, project associate and community service coordinator at the Thurgood Marshall Academy, organized one such table.
“We set up a warming station for the parade,” she said. “So, the parade-goers can get coffee, cocoa. We had fruit; we gave out coats — somewhere to use the restroom and just to rest.”
When asked about her motivation, Ames explained: “I enjoy helping and servicing people. Just being able to help people, just being able to be here for the community.”
Community seemed to be the theme of the day, with many of the parade watchers sharing the same sentiment. Sherry Williams, a sexual assault response coordinator for the Army, made it a point to attend the event in person for that very reason.
“I said, ‘no, you need to be out amongst our people celebrating today and what Martin Luther King stood for,’” Williams explained. “You know, if we stop coming out, then we stop recognizing, we stop paying attention, we stopped advocating for those that we need to advocate for. I was determined to come out today.”
That same determination pushed Denise Rolark Barnes, publisher of the Washington Informer, to organize the event altogether. Barnes shared the longstanding history behind her decision to do so.
“Not long after Dr. King was assassinated, my stepmother Wilhelmina Rolark was a member of the D.C. city council representing Ward 8,” she explained. “My father also was a community activist, and I don’t know if you’ve ever seen the movie on Petey Greene, but the three of them got together and decided to hold a parade. It was all in an effort to try to have a national holiday named in Dr. King’s honor.”
“That blood still runs through my body,” she said. “And I just felt it was important to do this, to bring this back.”
This is the first fully in-person celebration of the holiday since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“But we never stopped, right? We had a virtual parade and then, last year, we did a walk across the Frederick Douglass Bridge,” Barnes recalled. “We continue to do something and try to get as many folks involved as we can, whatever the challenges are.”
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