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It’s important for Martin Luther King Jr. Day message to reach West Bank youth, organizers say

EDGARD — The West Bank Martin Luther King Jr. Day memorial program included elementary choirs, student poetry readings and recognition of school poster contest winners, but organizers wished more youth has joined an audience packed primarily with adults.

Former West St. John Civic Association Vice President Madeline J. Bourgeois addressed the crowd in the West St. John Elementary auditorium Monday with a challenge to share King’s legacy with the children in their lives.

“We need to work a little harder to get our children to recognize what this day really means,”Bourgeois said. “Our kids are putting in the work, but they aren’t here.”

Education was a focus at the memorial service, hosted by the West St. John Civic Association. Organizer Warren Coleman Jr. referred to it as the key to a productive society built upon equal opportunity.

Judge Madeline Jasmine, left, and Corey Batiste speak during a Monday celebration in Edgard.

In an opening address, Mary Elizabeth Johnson said hope for a better tomorrow is up to each individual.

“We must educate our youth because there is still work to be done,” Johnson said.

“This is our voice. This is the purpose of the West St. John Civic Association.”

Growing up in Wallace and graduating from West St. John greatly impacted keynote speaker Corey Batiste, pastor at Beech Grove Baptist Church in Reserve.

District 1 School Board member Charo Holden

Batiste, a local educator and devoted follower of Jesus Christ, promotes education near and far by securing academic scholarships for students in Uganda and Kenya.

Though he’s never felt the pressure of a water hose or the bite of a German shepherd’s teeth, Batiste sees the 21st century version of racial inequality.

“Pieces of Martin Luther King’s dream have still not become a reality,” Batiste said.

“We have overcome some hurdles only to be shackled by other obstacles, like a record number of foreclosed homes; neighborhoods filled with drugs; parks with no benches. These are a few examples that indicate our work is not well done, but there is still hope. We shall overcome some day.”

Senseless killing of unarmed minorities, voter suppression and racial profiling leading to elongated sentences in the criminal justice system show a society hurting from wounds of the past, Batiste said.

King’s concerns for his four children decades ago are still alive as today’s parents, who worry whether young adults will be taunted or shot for the color of their skin.

“It may not be happening in Edgard, but it is happening somewhere as I speak,” Batiste said.

He urged attendees to never forsake their right to vote paid for by the blood, sweat, tears and lives of those who fought to combat social injustice.

In closing, Batiste asked attendees to stand with their community, not just in thought, but also in action.

“Don’t just dare to make a difference,” Batiste said. “Live to make a difference in someone else’s life.”

St. John Parish residents and supporters march in honor of Martin Luther King Jr.