King Day parade, program held in LaPlace

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, January 19, 2005


Staff Reporter

LAPLACE – “Keep Looking Ahead, We Are Not Home Yet” was the theme heralded this year in the annual Martin Luther King Jr. parade held Monday in St. John the Baptist Parish.

Despite cold weather and a scanty turn-out, this year’s parade made state and parish history.

Approximately 300 parish residents gathered at 9 a.m. to celebrate festivities surrounding a new state mandated holiday – Martin Luther King (MLK) Day.

While parishes have celebrated MLK Day in the past, Governor Kathleen Blanco made the Jan. 17 event a state holiday, after taking office last year.

“Today, history is being made. Today is the first official state holiday put into effect by Gov. Kathleen Blanco,” said parade coordinator, Ann Harvey. “History is also being made in St. John Parish. Today, we marched down Airline Highway for the first time.”

Starting at the East St. John Elementary School in Reserve, marchers paraded down Airline Highway to the parish courthouse annex building at 1801 West Airline Highway.

Parish President Nickie Monica and Sheriff Wayne L. Jones were instrumental in extending the parade’s route, conveyed Harvey.

Speaking from a platform at the annex, Harvey said, “We walked with police in the front of us, police in the back of us and our Parish President by our side.”

Marching in the parade were, state and local officials, the Rashad Learning Center, the Terrence Day Care Center, East St. John Elementary School, the Psi Phi Chi Drill team and residents.

Harvey said King, along with his supporters – ‘The Freedom Riders’ – originally planned to march from Mississippi and Tennessee to Washington D.C.

“King prepared for life and he prepared for his death. It was as though he saw his death coming in Tennessee,” said Harvey.

Rev. Forell Bering, founder of MLK Day in St. John the Baptist Parish, said the parade route was moved as not to segregate the parish.

However, Bering told the crowd that he asked to use parish school buses to transport children from poor neighborhoods to the MLK festivities.

“I asked for our buses to roll. Not one school bus was provided for service. We need everybody to attend MLK Day. We need our children to take part in this program.

School Board Member Russ Wise said later, in a telephone interview, that a request had never been made to the Parish School Board for the use of public buses. However, Wise said he felt the request would have been denied.

“School buses are used for school activities. We have never provided buses for services outside the school system. If we did this this year, we would be called upon every year. You cannot do this for one private organization and not do it for all. A cost is involved in something like that and we can’t do it,” said Wise.

Wise explained that parish school buses operate under a union contract. He said the system is audited and that expenditures for gasoline, bus drivers, overtime pay and other variables must be spent for school use only.

Judge Madeline Jasmine, a 40th Judicial District Court judge, said, “We are out here because someone gave his life so our lives would be better. We must live our lives as we speak. We must not just talk the talk.”

Speaking once more, Harvey said, “Since the time of King, we are finding ourselves slipping. We must refocus, revisit, restructure, rebuild. We must keep looking forward. We must train our children to be productive citizens. We must teach them to believe in a higher calling in Jesus. If our children stand for nothing, they will fall for nothing.”

Rev. Neal Bernard with the New Wine Christian Fellowship said, “Tragically, we’ve forgotten the most important thing. We started on our knees in the church and we must go back to our knees in the church. Do not forget the Lord, our God. Everything we have is because of him.

Major Michael Tregre, a public information officer for the sheriff’s office, told the crowd he left the parish recently for 11 weeks to train with the Federal Bureau of Investigations.

“While I was gone, crime rose in the parish. After coming back, I’ve seen too much crime in our parish. Today’s march concluded here at the courthouse annex, where parish laws are made and parish decisions are rendered. It is symbolic that we have marched here – to the nucleus of our parish. This is fitting for King. He would be pleased,” said Tregre.

Tregre added, “We have hidden potential in St. John Parish. We have professional athletes, singers and other individuals who possess a wealth of talent. Some people choose not to work in our parish. However, this is our home. The sheriff’s office can do only so much. We must work together to do the rest.”

Monica said, ” We are not home yet. However, if we continue to work together as a people, we will make it home.