MLK Festivities highlight weekend in Gardena

Dr. Martin Luther King (Rowland Scherman/Wikicommons)

By Gary Luster

The month of January usually means two things: New Year’s Day and Gardena’s annual celebration of the life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

The 40th Annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Commemorative Parade will celebrate Dr. King’s legacy on Saturday, Jan.14 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.”

A celebration will immediately follow the parade at Rowley Park featuring vendors, jumpers, food, and the annual Battle of the Bands competition. The celebration is scheduled to last until 3 p.m.

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 being a music director and a community activist.

In addition to Black, the parade will also 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 she is looking forward to the parade to witness the amount of participation by each school in the local community. 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,” Francis said. “The school superintendent walked in the parade along with the students. The essay contest winners also walked in the parade.”

Joining the more 1,500 participants will be local city officials including Gardena Mayor Tasha Cerda as well as Los Angeles County Supervisor Holly J. Mitchell and California State Senator Steven Bradford.

After the parade, the Battle of the Bands and the Battle of the Drumlines will occur. 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.

Although most people think of the parade and all of the fun that will be had at Rowley Park, there is one other event that is associated with Gardena’s MLK celebration: the annual MLK Essay Contest. This year’s question was: Is the struggle to vote as difficult today as it was during the Civil Rights Movement? Winners will be announced on Friday, Jan.13 at the Friday Night Youth Pro- gram, a special event at Nakaoka Center.


Keynote speaker at this year’s Friday Night Youth Program will be Alexandra Davis, 22, the winner of the 2018 Gardena MLK Es- say Contest. Davis, recent graduate of San Diego State University, was born and raised in Gardena.

Francis said winners were announced in three categories: Elementary School, Middle School, and High School. The winners in each category will be presented with a monetary prize. The city officials including the mayor are expected to attend. The winners in each category are:

• Elementary School Winners: 1st place–Sanii Pope; 2nd place- -Emma Kagawa; 3rd place–Tyler Chen

• Middle School Winners: 1st place—Erika De Los Santos; 2nd place—Christopher Neiro; 3rd place—Franco Valenzuela

• High School Winners: 1st place—Jocelyn Sandoval, 2nd place—Max Maiya Murray; 3rd place—LaDonte Quincy Willis

“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.”