Host of speakers keep alive message from Dr. King for local MLK events

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, January 22, 2008


Staff Reporter

EDGARD- “Dr. King died for us to do this,” said Carolyn Lumare, an assistant preschool teacher at West St. John Elementary as she marched in the wind-chilled winter air. Despite the cold weather, Lumare was taking part in the second annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day March in Edgard Monday organized by the West St. John Civic Association.

“We think it is important because most of our young people don’t know what they (civil rights activists) had to go through,” said Madeline Jasmine, co-founder of the Civic Association. “We are doing our part to keep the struggle in people’s minds.”

School Board Member Russell Jack, Jasmine and other founders of the group led about 100 marchers east on Highway 18 along the one-and-a-half-mile route from Roland Borne Sr. Memorial Library to the West Bank Community Center.

The West St. John High School Marching Band pulled up the rear of the march, while a DJ in the front of the pack played speeches by King and contemporary gospel music.

In the middle, community oriented sorority and fraternity members from Zeta Phi Beta, Alpha Kappa Alpha and Alpha Phi Alpha kept up the crowd’s spirit.

Near the end of the route marchers began to chant civil rights slogans such as “We will overcome” and “We are not afraid” in memory of marchers who came before them.

Once at the community center, marchers sat to listen to music and featured speakers.

Mitzi Milton welcomed the crowd with two questions,

“One. How can you take care of these changes Dr. King provided for us? Two. Have you fought to continue change?”

Choice International Choir, directed by Donald Ray King, was on hand to give their second performance in Edgard in less than a week.

Following the performance, a reading of Dr. King’s famous “I have a dream” speech was given by Gary Watson Jr. during which elder members of the crowd had to quiet teenage members of the West St. John band.

After the reading Watson encouraged the crowd to write down their dreams and keep somewhere and to keep the written dream with them.

“You will notice you will start doing things toward that dream,” said Watson. “You have to make the effort to be ‘free at last.’”

Following Watson the keynote speaker, Reverend Neil Bernard, of New Wine Christian Fellowship in LaPlace took the podium.

“All of us today are enjoying the sacrifice of those who went before us,” said Bernard.

Bernard spoke of the equality Dr. King and the civil rights movement afforded the black population of the United States, however, his speech took a darker note and attacked the things that are afflicting the black community today.

“One out of every two that enter our schools do not graduate…Less than 30 percent don’t have a household with two parents…One third of our females are sexually assaulted as children…drug dealing and using have become epidemic…Our entertainment industry that degrades our women…The biggest killer of 18-25 year old black men is black on black crime…one out of four of our men at some point will spend time in prison,” Bernard said.

“In a way we have reverted backwards and exchanged visible chains for invisible ones…Today, in black America we are involved in our own genocide. It is safer for a young black man in the fields of Iraq than on the streets of our city.

“We are at a critical stage. The difference, if we are going to have a better future is going to start with us.

“Start taking personal responsibility. Stop pointing the finger.”

Finally, Dr. Janel Bailey-Wheeler, who was inducted last week as the first member of the St. John the Baptist School Board hall of fame, was the last to address the crowd.

Bailey-Wheeler focused on the inequities she sees as still existing between the whites and blacks using the Jena Six as the most prominent example. She also held up democratic presidential hopeful Barack Obama as being only the fifth African-American U.S. senator and only the third to be popularly elected.

“We must continually be a flicker of light,” said Bailey-Wheeler in parting.