As the Feb. 26 date of Gardena’s Martin Luther King, Jr. Parade draws near, more information about the event has been released. Paulette Francis, Gardena City Councilwoman and chair of Gardena’s MLK Cultural Committee, said that this year’s community grand marshals will be the city’s own Philip and Rachel Johnson, longtime Gardena residents who have both been and continue to be active members of the community. This year’s parade grand marshals will be the Serra High School football team, which won the 2021 CIF state championship. In addition to being grand marshals, the team will receive a certificate of recognition from the Gardena City Council. “I thought it would be nice to honor our young folks and celebrate their success and their victory as well,” Francis said.
Because the 2021 event was postponed due to concerns over COVID-19, this year’s parade celebration will be combined with the Afternoon in the Park festivities, including the Battle of the Bands, in which marching bands of the South Bay compete for prizes and honors. This year’s participants will be Gardena High School, Lawndale High School, Hawthorne High School, and Serra High School. This year’s keynote speaker will be California State Senator Steven Bradford. Johnson, who will be at the parade with his wife Rachel, three of their four adult children and his six grandchildren, will be doing signups for the Gardena Football Youth and Cheerleading Program. He is the president of the program and has been involved with the program for almost 30 years. Johnson himself participated in the program as a kids growing up in Gardena. “I absolutely love it,” Johnson said. “It’s really nice to be part of a program where you see kids we coached when they were five or six years old and they are now in our program coaching their own kids. My oldest daughter has her three kids in the program and several other kids that we coached when we first started the program are there coaching and working with the kids also. It’s nice to be able to see it come back around.” Rachel Johnson served as a Gardena City Councilwoman from 2005 to 2015, and as Gardena Mayor Pro Tem in 2011. She is a retired educator and like her husband, does a lot of volunteer work. She is in charge of all cheerleading activities for the AAU program which offers opportunities for athletes of all ages, in all skill levels with events that are held throughout the country, including local competitions, invitationals, District Championships, and National Championships. Rachel Johnson also has a lending library in her front yard, which she has been operating for the past three years. She puts books out for various holidays and special days such as Black History Month, Labor Day and Presidents Day. “She tries to make sure kids have access to books and education,” Philip Johnson said of his wife. “People will come by, pick up a book, leave a book, and it generates conversation and sometimes we’ll go outside and see a grandparent seeing there reading a book to their grandkids which is really nice and just lit up our life to see that.” Serra High captured its third state football crown in the past 13 years. In 2009, the Cavaliers won its first crown in the new millennium, with a team that included wide receiver Robert Woods, now a Los Angles Ram pass catcher. The Cavs second state title was in 2013, when defensive back Adoree Jackson was a star on the team. Jackson is now a starting D-back with the New York Giants. As far as the upcoming event on Feb. 26, Johnson said he is very excited to participate after having it postponed last year due to COVID and believes that next year, the events will be separated one again so that residents as well as nonresidents can enjoy the MLK Parade and the Battle of the Bands as separate events just as they have been enjoyed prior to the pandemic. “It’s two separate events that can be merged together but I think the two need to be separated,” Johnson said. “Dr. King needs all the recognition he can get so I think it needs to stay separate.” For more information on the Gardena MLK Parade or the Battle of the Bands, contact the Gardena Recreation Center at 310-217-9537.