St. John crowd celebrates Dr. King

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, January 19, 2000

ERIK SANZENBACH / L’Observateur / January 19, 2000

RESERVE – It was a beautiful day to celebrate the birthday of Dr. MartinLuther King.

With a blue, cloudless sky and mild temperatures, a long line of St. JohnParish citizens, religious and political leaders marched down Louisiana Highway 44 from Our Lady of Grace School to the Reserve Oaks Housing Development on East 13th Street to honor the memory of the slain civil- rights leader.

Capt. Mike Tregre, representing the St. John Sheriff’s Office, commented,”I’ve been coming to this parade for four years, and for four years there has always been great weather for this event.” Tregre paused. “This issome kind of sign from God.”Juvenile probation officer for St. John Parish Ronnie Fiest looked out overthe people and mused, “The crowd just gets bigger every year.”With people watching from atop the levee and on the side of La. 44, King’scelebrants sang “We Shall Overcome” and “John’s Brown Body” as they marched down the road. Every now and then the procession would stop andthe East St. John High School marching band would entertain the crowdswith a song while their flag-twirlers flipped and spun black-and-gold striped flags in the bright morning sun.

Also in the parade was the cheerleading squad from Our Lady of Grace School and the New Vision Drill Team from the New Vision Baptist Church.

Leading the way was Grand Marshal Judge Madeline Jasmin of the 40th District Court, Division A. Behind her came Parish President NickieMonica, Tregre, School Board member Patrick Sanders, Fiest, leader of High on Life Harold Keller and Forell Bering, pastor of the Bethlehem Baptist Church and organizer of the parade.

The mood was happy and buoyant as the parade turned down East 13th Street to the housing development. People on the side of the street wavedand cheered as the procession walked in and converged in a large grassy area in the middle of Reserve Oaks.

The dais, a large flatbed trailer, was decorated with pictures of Dr. Kingand a red-and-blue banner that proclaimed, “Happy Birthday Dr. King.”After a rendition of “We Shall Overcome” by the East St. John High bandand the invocation by the Rev. Carlton Morris, the keynote speaker, Jasmintook over the podium.

“Let America be America again,” Jasmin proclaimed to the crowd. “Votingrights did not just happen,” she reminded her audience. “Remember that Dr.King and others suffered and died for the right of all African-Americans to vote.”Jasmin said though we have made great strides in this country, “It is painful to admit that King’s dream is still a dream.”Racial injustice is still a reality in our country, and “like alcoholics we cannot admit that there is a sophisticated form of racism still present in our country, and until we admit this, racism will never truly be eradicated.”Jasmin then said everybody can live Dr. King’s dream if they do it”everyday and not just in January.” She urged her audience to treateveryone with respect, register to vote, do jury duty, volunteer in the schools and get involved in church and community.””Get involved,” she exhorted the audience, “Let America be America.”The theme of getting involved and living Martin Luther King’s dream was a constant theme as other community and religious leaders spoke to the crowd.

One of the ministers, the Rev. Donald August, told the audience what King’sdream meant to him. First, he apologized to the crowd for being late to therally.

“I had to be at work,” said August, who is a major accounts representative for the Lanier Corp. “And I work on every Martin Luther King Day because25 years ago I wouldn’t even have this job If it weren’t for Dr. King. I’mliving my dream. Are you all living your dream?”After all the speeches were made and the prayers said the fundamental thrust of King’s message was made clear by 6-year-old Rashan Green’s simple observation, “He got white and black people to hold hands.”

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