Keeping the Dream alive

Published 4:07 pm Wednesday, January 22, 2020

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LAPLACE — David R. Batiste Sr., a member of the Louisiana Music Hall of Fame, has a scar on the side of his face that will never fade. In 1970, Batiste was attacked by a mob of people just for being a black man trying to play football at the Lakefront.

He was nearly beaten to death that day for the color of his skin. He felt the wrath of racism and hatred, but he also realized that hatred was not in everyone’s heart when five white people saved him from the mob.

Batiste spoke in front of the Percy Hebert building in LaPlace Monday to introduce his son, Damon J. Batiste, as the keynote speaker for the 2020 St. John the Baptist Parish Martin Luther King Jr. March and Rally.

The East Bank March and Rally was first organized in 1993 by Reverend Forell Bering Sr. as part of the Bethlehem Missionary Baptist Church’s Victory Beyond the Walls Outreach Ministry, according to organizer Lynncal Bering. In the early years, the march was held on River Road. In 2005, it was moved to Airline Highway.

Winners of the Martin Luther King Poster contest at West St. John Elementary were Jayce Jackson, Joi August, Makenzie Gason, Daygan Darville, Darian Darville, Cameron Clark, Diamond Downing, Andreanna Holland, Zynae Jones, Jahavon Grows, Jade August and A’Myrai Adams.

Keynote speaker Damon Batiste was named president and cultural ambassador to the New Orleans South Africa Connection in 1998. He produces festival activities related to cultural exchange in the realms of trade, music, art and tourism.

Batiste has worked closely with the Historic Riverlands Christian Center in Reserve, bringing crowds from across the world to experience the “Soul River” exhibit of African American history told through music.

“We have our ways of dealing with people through music, culture and arts. Because we live in this beautiful state, I think Louisiana should be one of the states that embraces the humanity of what Dr. Martin Luther King stood for,” Batiste said.

He encouraged the people in attendance to take a leap of faith to achieve their highest potential.

Monday’s MLK rally in LaPlace also featured powerful poetry recitations from children’s group Black Girls Rock.

“Go to the back of the bus, Rosa Parks,” one little girl said. “Go to the back and stay. No, I won’t. I think that’s unfair, and I’m just too tired today.”

Other girls in the group delivered inspirational messages, including one that said, “Hey black child, do what you can do. Learn what you can learn, and, tomorrow, your nation will be what you want it to be.”

The West St. John Civic Association organized the 12th annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day celebration on the West Bank. The theme for this year was “Dr. King’s Legacy – Equality, Peace and Service: Where are We Today?”

A music-filled march and a ceremony at West St. John Elementary School attracted a crowd of supporters. However, Mistress of Ceremony Judge Madeline Jasmine said the memorial event should have filled every seat in the auditorium.


Interim Superintendent Cory Butler, left, speaks at the West Bank Martin Luther King Day Memorial Program. At right, Damon J. Batiste delivers a keynote speech at the East Bank celebration.

In its early years, the memorial was held at the West Bank Fire Station and moved to West St. John Elementary to allow more space. Jasmine wants to see that pattern of growth return in the years to come.

“We must continue to remind our children and our children’s children of the importance of this day because one day we won’t be here, and this has to go on,” Jasmine said.

Guest speaker Cory Butler, interim superintendent of St. John the Baptist Parish Schools, spoke of King’s legacy in access to education and quality of life.

“Far too often, we forget about the struggles and the fights for equality and access, taking the simplest things for granted,” Butler said. “When you walk in a grocery store like Walmart, remember that at one time, people of color couldn’t do that. Or something as small as getting a drink of water from a public water fountain. Today, we still continue to fight. It is up to each of us to fulfill his legacy.”

He reminded the crowd to “dream, but stay woke” to what happens in society.

“Black Girls Rock” recites powerful poetry in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s legacy.

Mary Elizabeth Johnson said the Martin Luther King Jr. Day should be treated as a day of service and not just a day off from work.

“All of America is a much better nation as a result of Dr. King’s work,” she said. “We owe it to our ancestors and ourselves to celebrate his legacy and dedication through service and sacrifice.”

Johnson has learned from King’s work that anybody can be great; all it takes is heart and love for your fellow man.

The West Bank celebration included musical selections from Loraine Pierre, Sherrie Milton Shepherd and Allison Dickerson. Chyral August served as the Grand Marshal for the event.