January 24, 2013

By Shirley Hawkins

Contributing Writer

Brisk cold temperatures gave way to a ray of sunshine and warmth befitting the Southern California climate as media mogul Danny Bakewell Sr. and Dodgers star outfielder Matt Kemp led a spectacular day of unity and pride last Saturday before an estimated 200,000 spectators who gathered to honor Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. during the 28th annual Kingdom Day Parade on Crenshaw Blvd.

As the bevy of excitement and anticipation filled the air the parade’s Grand Marshals, Danny Bakewell, publisher of the Los Angeles Sentinel and the L.A. Watts Times Weekender news­papers, and Celebrity Grand Marshal Matt Kemp of Los Angeles Dodgers, warmly greeted thousands along the three-mile route.

“The greatness of Dr. King’s legacy is on fully display today,” said Bake­well. “This demonstration of peace and love for ourselves, community and families is what Dr. King and many other pioneers of the civil rights movement fought for. Their spirit is with us and continues to inspire and carry each one of us as we move forward in life.”

Marching and riding to the Kingdom day theme of  “His Dream Will Never Die,” the event featured a spectacular array of floats, school marching bands, community organizations, drill teams, beauty queens, celebrities, and civic leaders.

“I'm definitely part of his dream, and I'm living in this great world today,” Kemp told reporters Saturday. “If it wasn't for him, I wouldn't be in this position.”

Originally founded by the late Larry E. Grant who died last year, the Kingdom Day parade was organized by Adrian Dove, chairman of the Congress of Racial Equality and an assembly of outstanding volunteers.

Dozens of notables greeted the crowd, including Los Angeles City Council President Herb Wesson, Coun­cilman Bernard Parks, Council­woman Jan Perry, Councilman Eric Garcetti, Councilman Dennis Zine, L. A. City Controller Wendy Gruel, L.A. City Attorney Carmen Trutanich, Congresswoman Janice Hahn, Carson Councilman Mike Gipson, Council­woman Lula Davis-Holmes, and Compton Councilwoman Janna Zurita.

Los Angeles Unified School District, School Board Member Marguerite LaMotte, Los Angeles Fire Department Chief Brian Cummings, Parents of Watts founder “Sweet” Alice Harris, actor Babba Obbutunde, actress Paula Jai Parker, Tony Cornelius, son of the late Don Cornelius; Ray Charles Jr., blues singer Linda Hopkins, ABC sportscaster Rob Fukusaki, actor Hal Williams, actress Marla Gibbs, and SEIU Local 99 ere all gleefully in attendance.

Former Dodger legends such as Maury Wills, Kenny Landreau and “Sweet” Lou Johnson, received thunderous applause as they waved to the massive crowd from a blue fire truck.

The crowd cheered and clapped as nearly a dozen marching bands filled the air with music, including the 350-member All City Honor Band, while the Kappa Alpha Psi fraternity, dressed in crimson jackets, marched in front of their elaborate three-level-high float that paid tribute to King by blasting Stevie Wonder’s “Happy Birthday.”

Many parents and grandparents brought their children and grandchildren to the event to enlighten them about Dr. King’s legacy of equality and nonviolence. “I brought my five grandchildren all the way from Orange County just to see the parade,” said Buddy Monroe. “I wanted my grandkids to understand the meaning and significance of this day and to let them know why Dr. King is celebrated by people around the world.”

“Martin Luther King was a significant part of our history,” observed Los Angeles resident Micah Foster who proudly watched as a drill team marched down Crenshaw Boulevard. “I didn’t believe in King’s notion of turning the other cheek, but if it wasn’t for him, there would be one less significant African American for us to look up to,” he observed.

Leimert Park resident Trina Murphy, who was enjoying the festivities with her husband, Timothy, reflected on the sacrifices made by the civil rights leader. “Martin Luther King paved the way for African Americans, so I felt it would be an injustice not to attend today,” she said.

“The parade is outstanding. It’s very positive,” nodded Gail Davis, who said she drove with friends from Pasadena. “I’ve been here several times, and each year the parade keeps getting better and better. I really liked the high school bands, the Boy Scouts, and the teamsters. It’s great to see all the black people coming together.”

“I’ve been coming to the parade for 28 years, ever since it started,” said Los Angeles resident Mike Jones who watched attentively from the sidelines. “It’s just good to watch all the floats and festivities and just to see the community come together as one.”

Attendees clapped and whistled as the parade’s official beauty queen and court of princesses excitedly waved and threw kisses at the crowd. “I had a really good time,” said beauty queen Carla Banks, a recent University of California Berkeley graduate who waved to the crowd in her sparkling diamond tiara and shimmering green gown. “People were waving and smiling at us. It was a really wonderful feeling to connect with people in the community.” 

Health care was a recurring theme as several organizations offered services for rapid HIV testing while the Donate Life California bus spread awareness about the importance of organ and tissue donation.  The To Help Everyone (T.H.E.) clinic’s bus reminded parade goers that no cost to low cost health care was available to the public.

Businessman Ron Smothers, owner of the popular Denny’s restaurant located on Crenshaw Boulevard, said, “We’ve been part of the parade for the past five years and we’ve enjoyed every minute of it. We look forward to continuing to celebrate the vision that King had.”

A bus representing “Project Cry No More,” an organization founded to assist community residents who had lost loved ones to gun violence, drew thunderous applause from the crowd while activist Amanda Sanders, who marched with the Stop Mass Incarceration Network and the Revolutionary Club, chanted and proudly waved a sign proclaiming “Stop Mass Incarceration.” “Ninety percent of the people in jail today are Black and Latino,” she pointed out. “We are trying to call attention to this issue because mass incarceration plus silence equals genocide. We are also working to help save our youth from the prison system.”

Tony Muhammad, the Western Regional Minister of the Nation of Islam, said he enjoys the festivities each year.  “We are here to honor the life and legacy of Dr. King, who I personally feel is a saint,” he said. “I would like to see much the application of his legacy practiced by more of our people, especially when it comes to nonviolence. Since King’s death, 30,000 youths have been murdered in Los Angeles alone. We’ve lost more young people to gun violence than we lost in Vietnam.”

“I feel proud to honor Dr. King in our community and to show the next generation our heritage,” said Los Angeles resident Donna Sampson, who accompanied friends to the parade. “I was pleased to see Police Chief Charlie Beck and County Sheriff Lee Baca marching in the parade.  I heard on the news that crime was down and I believe that the reduction in crime is due to having more police presence in the community.”  

Kenneth Miller contributed to this story

Photos by Robert Torrence and Troy Tieue

Category: Community