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The Annual Martin Luther King Jr. Holiday Parade is Back!

James Wright | , WI Staff Writer | 1/12/2012, 3:23 p.m.

The yearly parade honoring Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. makes its return to the District of Columbia on Monday, Jan. 16 and this year promises to be just as thrilling and exciting as it was in the past.

The parade begins at 11 a.m. at the north end of the Martin Luther King Jr. Ave., SE at the Friendship Public Charter School. It and will end at Leckie Elementary School in the southern part of the thoroughfare in Southwest.

The parade is led by the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Holiday Parade Committee of which Ward 6 Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner Keith Silver is a member.

"We do this to honor Dr. King, who made the ultimate sacrifice for his people," Silver, 58, said. "As president of the D.C. chapter of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, which Dr. King led, I want people to remember him for who he was."

The late publisher of The Washington Informer, Calvin Rolark, and his wife, the late Wilhelmina Rolark, a longtime Ward 8 D.C. Council member, got the idea of having a parade to honor King more than 30 years ago. D.C. radio talk show host and street legend Petey Green also was an important founding member of King parade team.

The parade was designed at its inception to generate support for a federal holiday for King, said Washington Informer Publisher Denise Rolark Barnes, daughter of Calvin Rolark.

King's holiday was signed into law by President Ronald Reagan on 1983 and it was first officially celebrated on Jan. 20, 1986. The holiday parade became a District event where residents from Ward 8 and around the city would line up to watch the festivities and political leaders from across the city would participate.

In 2006, D.C. Council member Marion Barry proposed moving the parade to April, during the time where the weather was warmer. Many people connected with the parade did not like Barry's idea.

"Of course, the weather is an issue, but it was a tradition for the parade to be held on King's holiday," Ms. Rolark-Barnes said, "regardless of the weather."

Silver was blunter in his assessment.

"They said that the parade would be better in warmer weather and I rejected that," he said. "Myself and a number of leaders in the community have held this January parade in the past five years because it is best to have this on King celebrated birthday than in April. To me, some folks just got too middle class."

Ms. Rolark-Barnes said the District was one of the first cities to have a King parade and she said that vocalist Steve Wonder, who was a strong advocate for the King holiday, was one of the first grand marshals.

The lack of Barry support in 2006 led a group of activists Rolark-Barnes and Silver to institute a "Martin Luther King Jr. Peace Walk" which took place from 2007-2010.

"I remember some people during those years would come to see a parade," Ms. Rolark-Barnes said. "Instead they would come and say things like 'where are the bands.'"

The grand marshals for this year's parade are the professional boxers Lamont and Anthony Peterson. Jermaine Crawford of "The Wire" as well as representatives from the Chinese, Latino, Nigerian and Ethiopian communities and well as the Ballot Marching Band also will participate.

There will be a post-parade program at the Covenant Baptist Church in Southwest.

Other leaders of the parade include Barbara Jones and Yangon Sawyer, who is a community activist and radio show host.

Sawyer said that the King parade will be an inspiration to Ward 8 residents.

"Many residents of the ward are hopeless, helpless, homeless and unemployed," he said. "This parade is designed to uplift the people, give honor to and celebrate the life of Martin Luther King Jr."

Sawyer said that he is happy "a diverse group of people will participate in the parade."

For more information, call 1-877-576-5421 or visit MLKHolidayParadeDC.org.