Freezing temperatures and stiff winds didn’t sway the spirits of a multiracial caravan that came down Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue in Southeast on Monday to celebrate the federal holiday of the famed civil rights leader who would have turned 90 this year.
Mayor Muriel Bowser, D.C. Council members and numerous community leaders strode down Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue during the city’s annual MLK Peace Walk and Parade, which included community organizations, youth groups, go-go performances and the Ballou Senior High School marching band.
“Every part of the city celebrates Dr. King’s life and we are challenged by his legacy to do more,” Bowser said.
The community groups were certainly building bridges across the Anacostia River during the parade, as politicians and veteran community activist walked in a joyful procession along MLK Avenue and Good Hope Road to the St. Elizabeths campus, now a hub for community events.
“in my view, Dr. King’s birthday is a day of reflection and commitment,” said D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson. “Reflect on what we have and have not achieved and a commitment to better.”
Former D.C. first lady Cora Masters Barry, widow of D.C. political icon Marion S. Barry, also took part in the parade with youths from the Southeast Tennis and Learning Center.
“Marion Barry never missed this parade cause it was about empowerment dignity and making sure our people had a fair shot,” she said.
Most of the march’s participants made a stop at the reviewing stand and were interviewed by Washington Informer Publisher Denise Rolark Barnes and WJLA-TV (Channel 7) reporter Sam Ford, the parade’s hosts. At the event’s end, participants gathered at the renovated old chapel at St. Elizabeths, where volunteers from Martha’s Table distributed bags of fruits and vegetables.
One volunteer said a special effort was made to help furloughed federal workers affected by the ongoing government shutdown.
Even amid the bitter cold, the sun shone bright and smiles were aplenty on Martin Luther King Avenue.
“They were talking about canceling the parade because it was so cold, but Dr. King would have done it for us,” said D.C. Police Chief Peter Newsham.
The event was preceded by the MLK Breakfast at the Mayflower Hotel in Northwest, which was sponsored by Rev. Al Sharpton’s National Action Network (NAN) and featured King’s son Martin Luther King III, Bowser, former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and former Vice President Joe Biden.
Biden used his speech to condemn hate groups that he said have been revitalized because of the rhetoric President Trump continues to use.
“Let us move on to make America what it ought to be and we know what it ought to be,” Biden said. “We have learned in the last two years that it doesn’t take much to awaken hate.”
Biden and Bloomberg are contemplating joining a growing field of candidates for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination that includes Sen. Kamala Harris (Calif.), who used the King holiday to announce her bid.
Bowser used her speech to remind people about the plight of thousands of federal workers waiting to go back to work as the shutdown entered its fifth week.
“We have a lot of Americans who are focused on how we get our country back on track,” the mayor said. “We have many people forced to work without pay, people locked out of their work and real Americans experiencing hardships.”
Trump and Vice President Mike Pence made an unannounced visit to the MLK Memorial less than an hour after Martin Luther King III visited his father’s monument. The administration was roundly criticized for not scheduling a stop at the memorial beforehand.
During the NAN breakfast, King also chided Pence for comments the vice president made comparing his father to Trump.
“This is a challenging year for our nation, especially when you have the vice president comparing the current president to my dad,” King said. “Dad built bridges and brought people together — this administration is bringing about division and dividing more than anything else.”