St. John honors King’s legacy

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, January 23, 2013

By Kimberly Hopson

LAPLACE – St. John the Baptist Parish held celebrations on both banks of the Mississippi River on Monday as the community turned out to acknowledge the legacy of civil rights activist, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
King’s actual birthday is Jan. 15, but the federal holiday is celebrated the third Monday in January. The holiday was officially observed by all 50 states in the union for the first time in 2000.
In LaPlace, a march took place on Airline Highway, followed by a rally at the Percy D. Herbert Building. The rally featured a keynote speech by Judge Sylvia Dunn. Dunn said she was able to complete her education at Dillard University because the word “can’t” was never part of her vocabulary, despite having come from an impoverished background, and added that it is important for the younger generations to be aware of the civil rights history that surrounds them in their own community.
The rally also featured the presentation of essays from two East St. John High School students, Dare’Yona Reid and Lee Scott. The topic of the essays was “How I Can Keep Martin Luther King’s Dream Alive.”
“I enjoyed the march for today. The young people need to know what it was all about, what Dr. King died for,” said Barbara Johnson, 52. “It’s not about violence or anything, but he gave us the right. I think they should carry that on for years to come.”
In Edgard, the West St. John Civic Association also celebrated with a memorial march and rally. The community center was lined with posters created by students of West St. John Elementary School. The posters featured drawings of important figures in black history as well as information about what that person contributed to society.
The west bank rally also featured essay presentations by students. First-grader McKayla Roussieve, third-grader Madison Dinaut and sixth-graders Amaya Lamar and Savon Bridges were hand-selected to present their writings because they were the top performing students in their respective grade levels. In addition, the rally featured a stirring excerpt from King’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech, read by sixth-grader Alan Burl. Burl’s voice never wavered throughout the presentation and he projected as confidently as an adult.
Serina Duke, principal of West St. John Elementary School, said is important to continue acknowledging the work of King, not only because of the civil rights aspect, but also because of his message of non-violence.
“The world is so violent. Everybody’s response to every problem is just to react in violence,” she said. “A lot of people think about just the civil rights, which are still very important. But we also have to think about the fact that he was able to accomplish everything he did by being non-violent. We need to try to adopt some of those same beliefs so that we can also learn to solve our problems without being violent.”
Duke said her curriculum tries to help children become more well-rounded while teaching them pride in their heritage. Duke said a balanced curriculum is important because the children come from such a small community, and she wants her students to learn to function and become productive members of society anywhere in the world no matter what they decide to do in life.