The 29th annual Kingdom Day Parade, honoring the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., will roll through the Crenshaw District on Jan. 20 beginning at 11 a.m. traveling west from Martin Luther King Boulevard and Western Avenue, and culminating at Leimert Park (Crenshaw Boulevard and Vernon Avenue).
Presented by the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), officials proclaim the festival as “…a way to be joyous about King’s life and work.” At least 30 marching groups, 20 floats, 17 drill teams and 16 bands along with an estimated 100,000 onlookers will pay tribute to the slain minister and Nobel laureate who would have turned 85 on Jan. 15. King’s birthday was written into law by President Ronald Reagan in 1983.
“Fly Around the World,” a cultural exploration festival for teens with special needs, will be part of the “day of service” on Jan. 19 sponsored by the Volunteer Center of South Bay, Harbor and Long Beach. Volunteers will partner with special-needs children to explore different cultures, faiths and traditions from 2 to 4:30 p.m., at the Friendship Circle, 2108 Vail Ave., Redondo Beach. The event will include food, dancing and art from various world cultures. For more details, call the Volunteer Center at (310) 212-7201.
The University of Southern California will host on Jan. 18 “Communities Empowered for Change” from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. at Bovard Auditorium. Presented by Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas and the Empowerment Congress, the morning will include workshops on civic engagement, “EmpowerMENt: Boys and Men of Color in the Second District,” funding opportunities for the arts, and a healthcare expo and workshop for Affordable Care Act registration. Ridley-Thomas is a former president of the Los Angeles branch of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), the civil rights group that King helped found in Atlanta, Ga., in 1957.
Another day of service will take place Jan. 20 at Horace Mann Middle School, 7001 S. St. Andrews Place, from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Volunteers are still needed to help paint educational murals, deliver inspirational quotes and even design favorite college logos which, in a few years, some of the youth may call their own.
Culver City’s Ninth annual King Day Celebration on Jan. 18 will feature a 10:30 a.m. screening of director Sidney Lumet’s critically-acclaimed 1970 film “King: A Filmed Record…from Montgomery to Memphis.” The film chronicles the trials and tribulations of the Civil Rights Movement beginning with the Montgomery, Ala., bus boycott in 1955, to the King assassination in Memphis, Tenn., in April 1968. The keynote presentation will be delivered by Dr. Michael Bernard Beckwith of Agape International Spiritual Center in Culver City. Other activities will include a panel discussion on the impact of King’s legacy; a dramatic rendition of King’s “I Have a Dream” speech by actor Gerald Rivers; the debut of “Ways to Practice Nonviolence” (a public service announcement by members of the Culver City Teen Center), and a performance by singer-songwriter Rickie Byars Beckwith. The event is free. For more details, call (310) 253-6675.
Carson will remember Martin Luther King Jr. with a free tribute show. Set at 6 p.m. Jan. 10 at the Juanita Millender-McDonald Community Center, 801 E. Carson St. Entertainment will include the troupe Sophisticated Dance, the Unified Choir, Praise Dance and Carson’s Youth Enrichment Program. For more information, call (310) 835-0212.
In Watts, the King Day Celebration returns after a three-year absence. Rev. Reginald A. Pope of Bethel Missionary Baptist Church will head the second anniversary of the Watts celebration of King’s legacy. Music and refreshments will be offered. The Martin Luther King Shopping Center at 103rd Street and Compton Avenue has the city’s sole monument to King, sculpted by artist Charles Dickson and unveiled in January 1992. It is an eight-foot by 10-foot concrete wedge suggesting a pulpit and bearing the full text of King’s “I Have a Dream Speech.” A cast iron hand releasing a bird—a symbol of freedom—extends upward from the wedge. For more information, call (310) 810-4752.
LA Works will conduct its own day of service from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Jan. 20 at Hillcrest Drive Elementary School, 4041 Hillcrest Dr., Los Angeles. Volunteers will help spruce up the campus by painting exterior walls, landscaping and helping sow the campus vegetable garden. For details, call LA Works at (323) 224-6510.
L.A. Councilmember Bernard Parks (8th District) will host a “Martin Luther King Jr. Gospel Fest” from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Jan. 20 at Vernon Avenue and 48th Street. Admission is free. Details: (213) 485-7616.
The SCLC of Southern California will host from 7 to 9 p.m. Jan. 14 “A Unity Dialogue. The Dream Continues” at West Angeles Performing Arts Center, 3048 S. Crenshaw Blvd. Also, an interfaith prayer breakfast will take place on Jan. 17 from 8 to 9:30 a.m. at Holman United Methodist Church, 3320 W. Adams Blvd. Individual tickets are $25, or $250 for a table of 10. Details: (213) 268-4820. This church has special significance to the King Day celebrations because its former pastor is Rev. James Lawson, a close confidant of King and organizer of the late-50s “student sit-ins” throughout the South.
In the Antelope Valley, Lancaster will conduct “Everybody can be great, because everybody can serve,” a day of service set Jan. 18. For the two weeks surrounding the King holiday, various community organizations will help clean and restore projects within the city. Volunteers are needed. For details, call (661) 723-6077.
Palmdale continues its annual “Season of Service” on Jan. 25 with a day-long cleanup and restoration project at Avenue S and 70th Street East. Participants must be 12 years and older. For more information, call (661) 267-5100.
A “day of service” has been the charge of Americans since the holiday was signed into law. King once said: “Life’s most persistent and urgent question is: ‘What are you doing for others?’” The MLK Day of service is part of United We Serve, the President’s call-to-service initiative. It asks Americans from all walks of life to work together year-round to provide solutions to the nation’s most pressing problems.
In 1980, musician Stevie Wonder released a hit song from his “Hotter Than July” album, “Happy Birthday,” which became a rallying cry for supporters of the holiday. Civil rights marches took place in the nation’s capitol in 1963 and 1983 to amplify their mission, and on Nov. 2, 1983 President Ronald Reagan was joined by King’s widow, Coretta Scott King, in the White House Rose Garden, to sign legislation establishing a federal holiday for King.
“Dr. King had awakened something strong and true,” Reagan said that day, “a sense that true justice must be color blind, and that among White and Black Americans, as he put it, ‘Their destiny is tied up with our destiny, and their freedom is inextricably bound to our freedom; we cannot walk alone.’” Days after King’s assassination, however, Gov. Ronald Reagan was far less generous in his assessment of King’s work in civil rights. “It is sort of great tragedy,” he said, “when we begin compromising with law and order and people started choosing which laws they would break.”
South Carolina Senator Strom Thurmond put it this way: “We are now witnessing the whirlwind sowed years ago when some preachers and teachers began telling people that each man could be his own judge in his own case.”
Each man witnessed the first King Day celebration in 1986.
The local Kingdom Day Parade was the brainchild of the late banker Larry Grant who, along with the late bondsman Celes King, decided that a parade would be the most fitting way to honor the civil rights icon. A few years after Celes King spearheaded the name change from Santa Barbara Avenue to Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, the two men decided to organize a local parade that they predicted almost three decades ago “…would eventually rival the Rose Parade.”
They selected King Boulevard because they wanted the event to be a “people’s parade,” much to the disagreement of then Mayor Tom Bradley who suggested the event travel down the official city parade route from Broadway Avenue and 10th Street downtown, north to 1st Street and turning right to proceed to the City Hall south lawn. “I informed the mayor that this was going to be a ‘people’s parade,’ and not simply a platform for politicians,” King said years ago at his South L.A. office.
The two men, each a local civil rights legend, were not exactly the best of friends (King was a former head of the California Republican Party, and Bradley at that time was eying the statehouse), but it was agreed that political heavyweights would be welcome each year, provided they would ride through the Crenshaw District among the constituents they owed their political fortunes to.