While one of D.C.’s most outstanding preachers, the Rev. Graylan S. Hagler, served as the keynote speaker for the Martin Luther King Jr. Parade Committee’s Prayer Breakfast over the weekend, the young people who participated in the program stole the show.
The Jan. 12 breakfast, themed “From Many to One Beloved Community,” drew roughly 150 people to the Matthews Memorial Baptist Church in Southeast who came to honor the slain civil rights icon.
“We are here to reflect on the life’s work of Martin Luther King Jr.,” said the Rev. Joe Turner, pastor of Matthews Memorial.
The Rev. Sue Harris Green, associate minister of New Bethel Baptist Church, served as the mistress of ceremonies and stressed the importance of young people’s participation in the King holiday celebration.
Early in the program, a mime, Blake Myles Hopkins, put on a performance that had many in the audience spellbound by the grace and the flexibility of his moves and had his uncle, MLK Parade Co-chair Stuart Anderson, grinning from ear to ear.
D.C. Council member Trayon White (D-Ward 8), the youngest member of the District’s legislative body, talked about the importance of the King holiday.
“I have derived many benefits from the life that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. lived and I credit my career to a man who was inspired by Dr. King, Marion Barry,” White said of the late former D.C. mayor and councilman.
White also took a moment to denounce President Trump’s “foolishness” amid the shutdown showdown over the president’s fight for border wall funding, saying that Trump needs to end the impasse and let federal employees get back to work.
The Ward 8 councilman said that the District is doing well economically but fails in other areas.
“I am always hearing about how we are doing so well,” he said. “I hear that the city will have another year of a surplus in our city budget. And yet it seems that homelessness is on the rise and there is an educational disparity that exists in our city, as well as a sense of hopelessness among some people.”
White said that the District government has an obligation to heed the “calls for help while D.C. is flourishing.”
Markus Batchelor, the Ward 8 representative on the D.C. State Board of Education, called the D.C. parade “the first and finest Martin Luther King parade celebration” in the country.
“I commend the planning committee for what it is doing,” he said.
Batchelor also weighed in on Trump and the border wall battle.
“I don’t know what some people have about walls keeping people out,” he said. “We should read and teach about keeping people in.”
Batchelor, who is also the youngest elected member of his body, quoted King by saying “intelligence plus character — that is the true goal of education.”
The Woodland Tigers Dancers received a standing ovation for their performance, while J’TA Freeman, a youth mayor of D.C. and a product of the Marion Barry Youth Leadership Institute, excited the crowd with her message of youth empowerment and heeding King’s dream of activism and education.
Hagler, however, also made an indelible impression while touching on a number of topics, including the droves of people of color leaving the District and the apathy from public officials. He said frustration exists in the District’s communities of color because of children dying of homicides.
“Many parents have lost children to gun violence,” he said. “There needs to be a better moral attitude and moral aptitude about this.”
He lamented a D.C. Council member’s “giddiness” about legalizing sports gambling in the city and called the middle class in the District “a mirage.”
Noting the presence of D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson (D), Hagler said the D.C. Council needs to be held accountable for voting to overturn Initiative 77 that would have ultimately given wages to tipped workers.
In his closing, Hagler encouraged the gathering to continue its activism.
“Speak out,” he said. “If they tell you to shut up, tell them, ‘I don’t know what that means.’”
Denise Rolark Barnes, publisher of The Washington Informer and chair of the parade committee, announced that popular retired assistant police Chief Diana Groomes, activist Moses Williams, professional boxer Jarrett Hurd and, posthumously, journalist Charnice Milton are the among the grand marshals of the Jan. 21 parade.
Tatiana Robinson, a student at Ballou Senior High School and member of the D.C. State Board of Education, said she enjoyed the prayer breakfast.
“I came here to honor Dr. Martin Luther King and I thank him for his work,” she said. “He did things that paved the way for me.”
David C. Jones, a Ward 8 community activist, concurred.
“I though the program was outstanding, particularly what Rev. Hagler said,” Jones said. “I think it was great for everyone to come out and honor Dr. King.”