By Rosaland Tyler
New Journal and Guide
High-stepping bands, elected officials, civic leaders, and fraternal organizations will participate in Newport News’ sixth annual Dr. Martin L. King Jr. Parade and March on Jan. 19 at 1:30 p.m.
The one-and-a-half-mile parade route starts at New Beech Grove Baptist Church, 361 Beechmont Dr. and stops at Manna Church, 326 Tabbs Lane. This year’s grand marshals are Newport News City Councilman David Jenkins, SCLC vice president Edna V. Davis, and the Rev. Dr. Willard Maxwell, pastor of New Beech Grove Baptist.
“We had 150 people the first year and now we get 500 to 1,000 people,” said Andrew Shannon, SCLC state vice president and chapter president, who organized the first march in 2013 to honor the Rev. Dr. Martin L. King Jr., who founded the SCLC.
“It is more than a parade,” Shannon said. “We do an opening ceremony at 1:30 p.m. where we have speakers who speak on different topics. Congressman Bobby Scott spoke last year. One thirty is actually when we assemble and have the opening ceremony. We leave from 351 Beechmont Dr. and then we proceed to 327 Tabbs Lane and do a closing prayer.”
Shannon said, “We invite the community to come out because it is a wonderful opportunity to honor Dr. King. It would be his 91st birthday. He was arrested over 39 times for freedom and justice.
His work is appreciated but we still have to do endeavors like this even when it is unpopular. We still have to take positions now that we think are unpopular but we take them because we think it is the right thing to do.”
Are more people attending the annual parade and march because more people are interested in social justice?
While it is difficult to find scholarly reports that show increased interest in social justice, 52 percent of the Top 10 social media hashtags focus on social justice, according to best-hashtags.com: #socialjustice #humanrights #justice #Blacklivesmatter #climatejustice #selflove.
Meanwhile, the fact that the SCLC will hold its sixth annual parade and march speaks volumes. Moreover, other signs point to an increased interest. For example, Shannon described how he and others ranging in age from 13-93 launched an 18-month campaign several years ago to ensure that more local points of interest would honor the Rev. Dr. Martin L. King Jr.
The SCLC’s local efforts included marching to Newport News City Council meetings. It culminated in a street and a plaza being renamed after the slain civil rights leader: (Plaza at Jefferson Avenue and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Way/25th Street).
According to news reports, on May 17, 2014 the city unveiled “The Unfinished March,” a bronze sculpture by Artist Ed Hamilton of Louisville, Ky. The massive bronze sculpture of Dr. King shows him walking a step ahead of other civil rights leaders poised behind him. The installation of the sculpture was paired with a public presentation with the artist at The Peninsula Fine Arts Center.
Does it mean more people are interested in social justice?
“I think attendance has steadily increased at the parade and march because people are beginning to realize that there is a lot more work that needs to be done and people want to show their solidarity,” Shannon said. “Another reason more people are attending is because people like consistency. People put it on their calendar.”
Shannon added, “They know we are going to hold our parade regardless of the weather. We hold our parade rain, sleet, or snow. There is more awareness and consciousness now about social justice in terms of making sure there is equality in the justice system, criminal justice system, and other areas. There is a strong thirst to advocate for peace, nonviolence and identify with the issues that Dr. King identified with. Some who attend the parade and march may not have been alive to participate when Dr. King was alive but they can participate now.”
Originally a Catholic term, first used about 1840, social justice refers to the capacity to organize with others to accomplish ends that benefit the whole community. Social justice is synonymous with equality.
This is the point. While few scholarly reports show, more people are interested in social justice, social media hashtags show an increased interest. Meanwhile, the number of people who participate in the parade and march in Newport News continues to grow.
“We were happy with our accomplishments,” Shannon said pointing to the new street, plaza, and statue while trying to explain why the SCLC will hold its sixth annual parade and march in January 2020.
“We felt like Dr. King’s birthday was more than a holiday and we requested a permit for a parade six years ago. Initially it was held in the southeast community of Newport News but we decided we wanted to do something in another part of the city in order to be inclusive and moved it to the Denbigh community.”
Shannon said a “broad segment” of the population participates each year. “It has grown and continues to grow.”