Participants in the annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Peace Walk and Parade cross the Frederick Douglass Memorial Bridge in southeast D.C. on Jan. 17. (Photo by Lafayette Barnes)
**FILE** Participants in the annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Peace Walk and Parade cross the Frederick Douglass Memorial Bridge in southeast D.C. on Jan. 17. (Photo by Lafayette Barnes)

The 2023 Martin Luther King Jr. Parade Committee has scheduled activities for people to participate in from Jan. 13-16 to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the federal holiday honoring the slain civil rights leader.

“It is extremely important to give the ideas and philosophies of Dr. King a lift as the country celebrates the 40th anniversary of the federal holiday named in his honor,” said Stuart Anderson, who co-chairs the committee with Denise Rolark Barnes, the publisher of The Washington Informer Newspaper. “The King holiday has been celebrated globally for 40 years and that is a milestone. However, we are still dealing with some of the issues he was talking about during his life such as fair wages for working people, housing for everyone and fighting poverty and oppression.”

The committee’s final meeting for the 2023 parade took place on Jan. 7 at Gateway DC on the campus of St. Elizabeths East in Ward 8 with an audience of 35 committee members and participants, and the order of business was final logistics– particularly the parade route and  parking restrictions in the Historic Anacostia neighborhood.

The  procession’s route will end from its start at St. Elizabeths East campus in Congress Heights. 

Anderson, 62, said the grand marshals for the parade will be community activists Yango Sawyer and Sandra Seegars and the Rev. Wanda Thompson, senior pastor of the Ambassador Baptist Church in Ward 8, plus the president of the University of the District of Columbia Ronald Mason Jr.

History of the parade

Before it was a national holiday, the Martin Luther King parade in Southeast started on January 15, 1979, through the efforts of Calvin Rolark, the founder and publisher of the Informer, his wife, D.C. Council member Wilhelmina Rolark and media personality Petey Greene. The event had the purpose of spurring interest nationally in a federal holiday honoring King. 

In 1983, both houses of the U.S. Congress passed the King Holiday bill sponsored primarily by U.S. Rep. John Conyers (D-Michigan). President Reagan signed the bill into law on November 2, 1983, designating the third Monday of January as the official holiday nationally. The first official celebration took place on January 20, 1986.

The District’s parade proceeded through the years but had to be canceled in 2005 due to extremely cold weather. D.C. Council member Marion S. Barry Jr., (D-Ward 8) decided to move the parade to April in 2006, because the weather tends to be warmer then and in remembrance of the King’s assassination that occurred in 1968 of that month. Some King parade activists such as Rolark Barnes, Sawyer and community leader Keith Silver, did not embrace the decision and responded by forming a peace walk, designed to recognize people who fought the violence in the District’s neighborhoods. The peace walk became the primary King Holiday procession from 2007-2011.

The parade came back in 2012, but various problems in 2013 and 2014 forced the committee to reinstate the peace walk. In 2015 and 2016, the parade and the peace walk co-existed, but the former had a different route than the latter. Both processions will co-exist for this year’s holiday celebration.

Key activities of the King holiday

On Jan. 14, the annual Prayer Breakfast, sponsored by Building Bridges, will take place at TheARC Black Box from 10 a.m.-noon. Tickets are $25. There will be an array of activities such as liturgical dancing and singing. The Rev. E. Gail Holness will be the keynote speaker.

The announcing of the winners of the King Holiday essay contests for school children sponsored largely by the Marion Barry Youth Leadership Development Institute’s alumni association will occur at the headquarters of the D.C. Department of Employment Services, starting at 2 p.m., also on Jan. 14.

The peace walk—encompassing a rally and an assembly—will occur at Shepherd Park in Ward 8 on January 16. Leaders and participants will assemble at the park with the step off at 10:45 a.m.

The parade will start later that day at the R.I.S.E. Center on the campus of St. Elizabeths East with a step off at 11 a.m. Committee leaders estimate 90 groups will participate in the parade, including a number of bands. The Anacostia and Ballou bands, located in Ward 8, have confirmed participation in the event.

After the parade, a wellness fair will commence. Wendell Wren, the chairman of the fair, said the offerings will be comprehensive.

“We seek to meet the needs of the whole person,” Wren, 34, said. “We will have any and every screening. Whitman Walker and AmeriGroup will have mobile units and we will have yoga demonstrations.”

Other events endorsed by the committee include the “MLK Holiday Conversations and Crank Events,” a series of workshops sponsored by entrepreneur Ron Moten at the Anacostia Arts Center in Ward 8 that features city leaders on January 14. The Covenant Baptist United Church of Christ will hold a Jan. 15 Sunday service with Dr. Herbert Marbury, theologian at the Vanderbilt Divinity School in Nashville, serving as the keynote speaker.

James Wright Jr.

James Wright Jr. is the D.C. political reporter for the Washington Informer Newspaper. He has worked for the Washington AFRO-American Newspaper as a reporter, city editor and freelance writer and The Washington...

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