LEIMERT PARK — An estimated 100,000 people lined the parade route Jan. 16 to honor the life, legacy and philosophy of civil rights leader the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. at the 32nd annual Kingdom Day Parade.
This year’s grand marshal, U.S. Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Los Angeles, left her car to walk the last mile in her signature stilettos, waving and shaking hands with people who lined both sides of Crenshaw Boulevard.
“The parade is more than a stream of floats, marching bands, elected officials, and community leaders,” said Jesse B. Johnson Jr., president of the Louisiana to Los Angeles Organizing Committee and the founder of the 100 Black Men of Long Beach. “It’s about the personal touch and connections made among leaders and the diverse constituents in our communities.”
“For 32 years, the annual Kingdom Day Parade provides a platform for tens of thousands of people to commemorate the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.,” said Yvonne Wheeler, an American Federation of Government Employees national representative, the largest union representing federal and D.C. government employees. “It serves as a beacon of hope and inspiration for many and forges alliances with labor, community, and civil rights organizations.
“I’m living the dream,” said Gloria Myles, 81 who is a retired AFGE national organizer.
“This is my first year attending and I loved seeing the equestrians, fraternities performing, and the martial arts groups,” said Marissa Lewis, a fashion designer from the United Kingdom. “The floats and costumes were beautiful, I couldn’t stop taking pictures. I will be back in 2018 and invite my friends.”
“It was an honor to share the embRACE LA float with political leaders like Los Angeles City Council President Herb J. Wesson Jr. and council members Curren D. Price Jr., Marqueece Harris-Dawson, Mike Bonin, Nury Martinez, Joe Buscaino, U.S. Congresswoman Karen Bass and my fellow commissioners Courtney Morgan-Greene and James Herr,” said Rosa Russell, the president of the L.A. Human Relations Commission.
Numerous civil rights stories were illustrated by several entries, including an old bus that was sponsored by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority paying tribute to the 61st anniversary of Rosa Parks’ arrest and the subsequent bus boycott, which became a catalyst of the civil rights movement.
As a prelude to the parade, the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor kicked off a weekend of events devoted to King with the annual Martin Luther King Jr. Labor Breakfast Jan. 14 at the Bonaventure Hotel downtown. Laphonza Butler, president of Service Employee International Union Local 2015 and the head of the SEIU California State Council, introduced new U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris to the nearly 1,000 community leaders, labor leaders, elected officials, corporations and supporters in attendance.
Harris highlighted the importance of California leading the way for a more progressive nation that respects the lives of workers from all backgrounds.
“Let’s not throw up our hands when we should roll up our sleeves,” she said.
The event honored the first graduating class of the Federation of Labor’s Second Chance Pre-Apprenticeship Boot Camp. LA Fed Executive Secretary Treasurer Rusty Hicks introduced the Boot Camp graduates who completed the 12-week program. They were Louis Martinez, John Hollenbeck, Jesse Contreras, Alfredo Guerrero, Alex Lopez, Lord Antwane, Souriyo Bauthakounh, Tony Rodriguez, Jonathan Silva, Lawrence Flores, Anthony Schaffner, Jason Thomas, Thomas Reese, Michael Tevarez, Nikolai Armendariz, Johnny Lucero, Michael Thompson, Justin Martinez and Gregory Walker.
“The first two weeks of the Pre-Apprenticeship program is a life skills, job readiness, career and character development course,” Reese said. “This phase of the journey is invaluable. We were given a life coach who taught the guys how to dress, how to speak with proper etiquette, and how to budget. Budget not only our money, but more importantly we were taught how to budget our time.
“When I was given the opportunity to work in the union, I no longer see a job, I see a career,” Reese added. “I see an opportunity to acquire the necessary skills working with and learning from the best of the best as we build a better California. I don’t merely see a great paycheck, I see a brighter future.”
Hicks also highlighted labor’s role in resisting any negative legislation that harms working families.
“Martin Luther King, Jr. was arrested 30 times in his long march for civil rights,” Hicks said. “Each time, every time, King was freed he marched again to succeed. These men dedicated themselves to Dr. King’s truth. … They were ‘Freed to Succeed.’ Now they are on their way … on their own march to success … and they won’t turn back.
“We can’t let anyone roll in and roll out with our progress.”
“This is my first MLK event in Los Angeles,” said Gloria L. Williams, CEO of Footnanny. “Coming from Chicago and as an entrepreneur, it was a breath of fresh air to see so many races come together to celebrate and honor the legacy of Dr. King.”