The 2016 Martin Luther King Jr. Peace Walk and Parade Jan. 18 took place on the District street that bears his name. Thousands of people stood on the sidewalks and curbs of a major thoroughfare in Southeast D.C. to observe marchers, floats and bands honor the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on the federal holiday designated in his honor.
The peace walk started at the parking lot next to the headquarters of the United Black Fund. It consisted of leaders of organizations speaking about the impact of King had on the nation. “Many people have forgotten who Dr. King was,” said Eugene Puryear, a leader in the Justice First advocacy organization. “When Dr. King left us he was fighting militarism, racism, and poverty and all of those things are still with us. We need to get rid of them completely.”
There were speakers on District statehood, women and youth issues, and ways to stop the violence on the streets of the city and in society.
After the speeches, 300 people, with their organizations, marched one mile to St. Elizabeth’s East campus. The peace walk had diverse groups participate in it, such as the D.C. GOP, Justice for Barry Farm, Save McMillan, and the Federal City Alumnae Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta.
Backers of D.C. Council member LaRuby May (D-Ward 8) and her strongest challenger in the June 14, 2015 Democratic Party primary, Trayon White, walked with them wearing purple and white for May and light green and red for White. White said participating in the peace walk and parade was never a question for him.
“I feel it is my responsibility to keep Dr. King’s dream alive,” he said. “His dream is that we collectively can do more for people. We need to do more for people who live in Wards 7 and 8.”
The marchers in the peace walk took a side entrance on King Avenue to join the parade contingent gathering next to the R.I.S.E. Demonstration at St. Elizabeths East. A large gathering of D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser’s supporters begin the parade procession.
Bowser arrived shortly before the parade started. During the parade, the mayor dashed to both sides of King Avenue taking pictures and selfies, handing out beads and greeting residents.
D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson (D) and council members Vincent Orange (D-At Large), Yvette Alexander (D-Ward 7), and Brandon Todd (D-Ward 4) marched with their supporters. Orange’s followers handed out orange beads to the crowd while Alexander, Mendelson and Todd stayed with the procession.
Two graduate chapters of King’s fraternity, Alpha Phi Alpha’s Omicron Lambda Alpha and Omicron Eta Lambda, marched separately. Omicron Eta Lambda President Thomas Davis said that the work of King will continue. “We must continue to provide manly deeds, scholarship and love for all mankind,” he said. “That is Alpha Phi Alpha’s mission.”
The soon-to-be-opened Rocketship Charter School and the IDEA Charter School Jr. ROTC had a contingent of officials, parents, and students while the Anacostia and Ballou High School marching bands performed. The popular go-go group, Junk Yard Band, performed on a huge float and developed such a following among the crowd that the D.C. police had to step in to separate the float from the people.
The final participant in the parade was Ballou’s band, which has been a tradition.
“This is the best parade we’ve had in decades,” Keith Davis, owner of a barbershop on King Avenue said. “The mayor and council members were participating and the Ballou band closing it at the end is great. There were different groups of people and multiple races in it.”