Black ExperienceCommunityHamil R. Harris

Thousands Converge on D.C. for Annual MLK Parade

The annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Peace Walk and Parade in D.C. on Monday exceeded expectations as the son of the slain civil rights icon and his family walked through Southeast with Mayor Muriel Bowser and a joyful procession of thousands.

The parade, held on the annual national holiday honoring King, featured the city’s elected officials followed by military units, marching bands, veteran cheerleaders and a large contingent of masons from the Most Worshipful Prince Hall Grand Lodge of the District of Columbia.

Bowser tweeted at the start of the event, “Today we march for peace, for justice, for equality and for the dream that one day 704,000 Washingtonians will have equal representation.”

King’s son Martin Luther King III, who took part in the parade, tweeted, “Today we marched for the rights of all humanity. It was a pleasure to join Mayor Bowser in Washington D.C.”

King also placed a wreath at his father’s monument in Southwest after attending the annual MLK breakfast sponsored by the National Action Network.

Georgene Thompson (left), with Dr. Benjamin Chavis, president of the National Newspaper Publishers Association, and Denise Rolark Barnes, publisher of The Washington Informer, during a photo-op at Georgene's Restaurant in Southeast, which hosted members of the MLK Parade committee for a luncheon after the event on Jan. 20. (Shevry Lassiter/The Washington Informer)
Georgene Thompson (left), with Dr. Benjamin Chavis, president of the National Newspaper Publishers Association, and Denise Rolark Barnes, publisher of The Washington Informer, during a photo-op at Georgene’s Restaurant in Southeast, which hosted members of the MLK Parade committee for a luncheon after the event on Jan. 20. (Shevry Lassiter/The Washington Informer)

The parade started at noon and proceeded down Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue through downtown Anacostia and up the hill to the campus of the old St. Elizabeths Hospital, where it passed a reviewing stand and joined a health and community fair.

Despite freezing temperatures, parade participants young and old marched with vigor while others rode in cars or atop flatbed trucks. There were also military units from Marines and Coast Guard, the latter of which is headquartered in Southeast.

“The day is really about reflection — what the dream was and what the dream is, what we have achieved and what we haven’t achieved,” said D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson. “And frankly, we have slipped backwards.”

The final band in the parade was from Ballou Senior High School, led by alumni pom-pom team members and the majorettes, followed by several mounted horse groups including men dressed as the historical Buffalo soldiers.

Denise Rolark Barnes, publisher of The Washington Informer, and community activist Stuart Anderson were co-chairs of the parade and they, along with WJLA-TV (Channel 7) reporter Sam Ford, the parade emcee, were all in good spirits once it ended on time at about 2 p.m.

The parade was conceived in 1977 by the late Dr. Calvin W. Rolark, founder of The Washington Informer and co-founder of the United Black Fund, along with his wife, the late Ward 8 Council member Wilhelmina J. Rolark, Esq., and the late Ralph “Petey” Greene, a community activist and radio personality.

D.C. was one of the first jurisdictions in the nation to hold a parade honoring King following his assassination on April 4, 1968. The inaugural parade took place in 1979, six years before King’s birthday became a federal holiday. Most of Monday’s participants were not yet born when King lived and died.

About 150 masons from Most Worshipful Prince Hall Grand Lodge of the District of Columbia took part in the parade for the first time, and no one was happier than Quincy Gant, the Most Worshipful Grand Master, who came up with the idea for the masons to participate.

The U.S. Census Bureau volunteers set up a table at the MLK Health Fair to share information on the 2020 Census. The health fair was held simultaneously with the Parade and provided attendees with the opportunity to receive coats, food and health education. (Shevry Lassiter/The Washington Informer)
The U.S. Census Bureau volunteers set up a table at the MLK Health Fair to share information on the 2020 Census. The health fair was held simultaneously with the Parade and provided attendees with the opportunity to receive coats, food and health education. (Shevry Lassiter/The Washington Informer)

“Masonry has been the District for hundreds of years, and I have been in masonry for 20-plus years and we have never marched in this parade,” he said. “This is a very meaningful moment to march in this parade.

“The Martin Luther King Jr. Parade symbolizes the need to continue Dr. King’s work and reinforces the idea reflected in his words: ‘Human progress is neither automatic nor inevitable … every step toward the goal of justice requires sacrifice, suffering, and struggle; the tireless exertions and passionate concern of dedicated individuals,'” Gant said.

Earlier in the day, more than 2,000 volunteers gathered at the First Baptist Church of Glenarden, where Prince George’s County Executive Angela Alsobrooks joined Pastor John K. Jenkins and his wife to clean Perrywood Elementary, one of 25 sites the church cleaned for the King holiday.

“I think Dr. King’s message of love, of concern, of caring for the less fortunate is significant,” Jenkins said while flanked by Alsobrooks. “This is not new for us — we do this on a regular basis.”

Alsobrooks spent the morning with her church family making blanquette and cleaning a kindergarten classroom at Perrywood.

“It is not only an honor to serve others, it is a gift to serve,” Alsobrooks said. “We are not only celebrating Dr. King, but this is what Jesus did. Dr. King really followed in the steps of Jesus. We are here not only celebrating what Dr. King did but [also] what we have been taught.”

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Hamil R. Harris

Hamil Harris is an award-winning journalist who worked at the Washington Post from 1992 to 2016. During his tenure he wrote hundreds of stories about the people, government and faith communities in the Greater Washington Area. Hamil has chronicled the Million Man March, the Clinton White House, the September 11 attack, the sniper attacks, Hurricane Katrina, the campaign of President Barack Obama and many other people and events. Hamil is currently a multi-platform reporter on the Local Desk of the Washington Post where he writes a range of stories, shoots photos and produces videos for the print and online editions of the Post. In addition, he is often called upon to report on crime, natural disasters and other breaking issues. In 2006 Harris was part of a team of reporters that published the series “Being a Black Man.” He was also the reporter on the video project that accompanied the series that won two Emmy Awards, the Casey Medal and the Peabody Award. Hamil has lectured at Georgetown University, George Washington University, Howard University, the American University, the University of Maryland and the University of the District of Columbia. He also lectures several times a year to interns during their semester in the District as part of their matriculation at the Consortium of Christian Colleges and Universities.

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