Thousands of people lined the streets of Southwest Los Angeles today for the 27th annual Kingdom Day Parade, Southern California’s largest Martin Luther King Jr. Day observance.
The smell of barbecue wafted through the air amid the sounds of gospel, R&B and hip hop music all along the route of the parade, themed “The Dream Continues to Live and Grow.”
The parade began at 11 a.m. at Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard and Western Avenue and headed west on Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard to Crenshaw Boulevard, then south to Vernon Avenue, concluding at Leimert Park, where an afternoon festival was held.
Angela Johnson, 51, sat with her three grandchildren and other friends and family along the parade route.
“We’re somewhere over the hump, but we’re not near where we should be in the civil rights movement — especially the criminal justice system (and) three-strikes law,” she said. “We need to do away with that, because that’s unfair.”
Johnson said her cousin is serving a 30-year prison sentence on a third strike for an attempted burglary.
“It really hurts society, because a lot of our young black males and females are locked away. When they get out, they can’t get a job. Nobody’s gonna hire felons,” she said.
Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca walked the parade route, shaking hands and wishing attendees a “Happy King Day.”
“To me, the biggest civil rights, in addition to food and a job, is education. And people in jail have failed in the elementary schools, failed in their junior high schools and high schools and I intend to have them have another opportunity to restore themselves educationally,” Baca said.
“I’m a very big believer that you can lock up a body, but you should never lock up a mind,” he said. “That’s why using education-based incarceration programs for the inmates (is effective), because a culture of a jail should be to help a person be a better human being, even if they are incarcerated.”
The parade featured 30 marching groups, 20 floats, 17 drill teams, 16 marching bands, seven color guard teams, three dance groups, the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department equestrian unit and the Los Angeles Police Department motorcycle drill team, according to founder Larry E. Grant.
The floats included the “Occupy King’s Dream” float, honoring King’s attempts to end poverty and “fight against a system that created inequality,” said Marqueece Harris-Dawson, president and chief executive officer of the Community Coalition, one of the float’s organizers.
The “Get Onboard Donate Life” float sought to inspire organ and tissue donation among people of color in Los Angeles. Set to be aboard the double-decker bus is an ethnically diverse group of waiting list candidates, transplant recipients, living donors and donor family members.
The Rev. Hae Hak Lee, a South Korean Presbyterian minister, was the parade’s international grand marshal. Kim Young Jin, a member of South Korea’s parliament, South Korean movie star Young Moon Kwan and Sang Won Park, president of the Korean American Federation, were among the parade’s
“This is one heck of a celebration,” said City Council President Herb Wesson, who this month became the first black council member to lead the city’s legislative branch. “There’s a lot of work left to do, but we’re moving in the right direction.”
Los Angeles County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas was grand marshal of the parade.
Jerome Horton, chairman of the California State Board of Equalization, was the Division I parade marshal, Academy Award-winning actor Louis Gossett Jr. was be the Division II parade marshal and Nan Nay Kirby, a 10-year-old actress, was the celebrity grand marshal.
“As a devotee of nonviolence, as one who has taken seriously the philosophy of Martin Luther King, I’m pleased to have the opportunity to be the grand marshal of the parade,” Ridley-Thomas said.
His marshal duties brought back “meaningful memories,” said Ridley-Thomas, who was executive director of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference of Greater Los Angeles for 10 years. King was
the group’s first national president.
Ridley-Thomas called the parade a way to “be joyous about (King’s) life and his work.”
The crowd was a tad smaller than usual, according to Johnson, who said she was at the first Kingdom Day Parade 27 years ago and has only missed a few since.
“Unfortunately, everybody wants to go pack a mall and get some tennis shoes instead of come out represent something like this,” she said. “It should be just elbows right about now.”