By Gary Luster
The 40th Annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Commemorative Parade will celebrate Dr. King’s legacy on Saturday, Feb. 25 at 10 a.m. The parade will begin at Junipero Serra High School and will end at Rowley Park.
“The parade is scheduled to stage in the area of Marine Avenue and Van Ness Avenue and begin on Van Ness Avenue at 10 a.m.,” said Stephany Santin, Director of Gardena’s Recreation and Human Services Department. “It will travel north on Van Ness Avenue to 132nd Street to Rowley Park where it will disband.”
This year’s Grand Marshal will be Guy Black of KJLH radio. Black hosts the Radio Free Grown Folks Radio Show Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. in addition to be- ing a music director and a community activist.
A celebration will immediately follow the parade at Rowley Park and among other highlights, will feature the student winners of the Dr. MLK essays.
Other notable Rowley Park features will include vendors, jumpers, food, and the annual Battle of the Bands competition. The celebration is scheduled to last until 3 p.m.
The parade will feature comedienne and television and film actress Luenell as the Celebrity Grand Marshal and 40 plus-year Gardena resident Barbara Phillips as Community Grand Marshal. Phillips, a member of the Second Time Around Senior Club, was recently sworn in as a commissioner of the Gardena Beautification Commission.
Paulette Francis, Chair of the Gardena Martin Luther King Jr. Cultural Committee, said that this year’s event will host more than 1,500 participants in the parade and the celebration in Rowley Park after the parade. All of the Gardena community schools will participate in the parade such as Chapman, Amestoy, Purche, and Gardena High.
“It’s an opportunity for the city of Gardena to just pause and commemorate the legacy and life of Dr. King,” Francis said.
Francis said that each participant will receive a ribbon commemorating the 40th anniversary of the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr Parade and Celebration.
“One of the biggest things for me was that [last year] we had every Gardena community school represented in our parade,” Fran
cis said. “The school superintendent walked in the parade along with the students. The essay contest winners also walked in the parade.”
Taking part in the parade will include Gardena Mayor Tasha Cerda as well as Los Angeles County Supervisor Holly J. Mitchell and California State Sen. Steven Bradford.
As in recent years, the Battle of the Bands and the Battle of the Drumlines will square off for prizes. First, second and third place winners will each receive a prize. First place will win $1,000, second place will win $500 and third place will win $250. The money goes to the school to be used for the benefit of the band.
The annual MLK Essay Contest winner, who were slated to be honored mid-January, will also be a part of Saturday’s festivities.
This year’s question was: Is the struggle to vote as difficult today as it was during the Civil Rights Movement?
“Our young people surprised me,” Francis said. “They were able to compare what voting was like during the Civil Rights Movement and the reason that it’s important to vote and while it’s a struggle for some people, it’s really important to vote. People complain a lot about young people but when you are able to sit down and really listen to their thoughts, then you know we’re going to be in good hands.”
The Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Cultural Committee of Gardena was founded in 1972 by Arthur Johnson, a chemist and educator who originally wanted Gardena to honor Dr. King with a city holiday. After hearing Johnson’s idea for a city holiday, the Gardena City Council decided to honor Dr. King with a week-long celebration.
Believing that a week of daily activities was too much, Johnson managed to get the event activities down to a parade, a battle of the bands, an annual youth night, and the essay contest.
“We are the first city west of the Mississippi to honor Dr. King with an official celebration,” Francis said. “Other cities just have a parade but for us it’s important to celebrate and honor Dr. King in Gardena because we share the values of Dr. King’s legacy of peace, non-violence and justice.”