The life of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. was epitomized by service to the community — a theme that’s become an integral part of the annual holiday across the country.
Such was the focus for Lafayette’s 30th annual King commemoration, “Living the Dream: Change Begins With Me,” which began with a concert and youth pageant Saturday, continued with a Sunday parade down Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard and culminated Monday in a day’s worth of activities focused on positive community enrichment, especially through health care and youth involvement.
The scent of barbecued ribs, pork and burgers permeated the air where hundreds of adults and children cycled through the Martin Luther King Jr. Recreation Center at Dorsey-Donlon Park to participate in Monday’s activities.
Markeedrick Durall, a 17-year-old junior at Lafayette High School, was crowned king at Saturday’s youth pageant. The title gives him an opportunity to recruit four young men to participate in next year’s MLK events, which encourage young people each year to become active in their communities, Durall said.
“You see different youth getting involved every year. I love it,” he said.
Durall, who also was recognized Friday during the Diocese of Lafayette’s MLK Mass and award ceremony, said he also plans to travel to Selma, Alabama, in March to participate in commemoration activities marking 50 years since the historic voting rights march to Montgomery.
Adonti Wallace, a 24-year-old Lafayette native and resident, was crowned queen of the youth pageant in 2008. She now serves as a youth pastor for Ruwach Church of the Full Harvest and brought four of her students to the MLK Center to share information on the church’s ministries.
“I’m glad that I came back. It’s a wonderful experience,” Wallace said.
Following an 8:30 a.m. flag-raising ceremony, medical vendors provided free health screenings, took blood donations and offered information on healthy living and community health services — offerings that continued during and beyond the commemorative luncheon program at noon.
Dr. Kenneth Brown, a Lafayette native and physician who practices obstetrics and gynecology, was the MLK parade’s grand marshal and a featured speaker at the luncheon.
After 250 years of slavery, 100 years of Jim Crow laws and more than 50 years and counting of institutional racism, “we have come a long way, but we’ve got a long way to go,” Brown told an audience of more than 200.
Brown, who said he supports universal heath care, opened a women’s health clinic on Surrey Street in the 1980s, long before affordable health care was a hot topic.
But even after the Affordable Care Act became law, more than 240,000 of Louisiana’s poor remain uninsured after the state refused to accept federal dollars for Medicaid expansion, Brown pointed out.
“And the working poor are paying the tax,” he said.
He also touched on the controversial deaths of Trayvon Martin in Florida, Eric Garner in New York, and Victor White III, the 22-year-old New Iberia man who died from a single gunshot wound to the chest while handcuffed in an Iberia Parish sheriff’s deputy’s car.
“And yet it was ruled a suicide,” Brown said. “I think that’s wrong.”
Ruben Henderson, a 28-year-old graduate student at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, followed Brown’s speech with a presentation on recruiting and retaining the youth in education.
Henderson, who will earn a master’s degree in education next year, is also assistant director of marketing and leadership with UL-Lafayette’s University Program Council.
He encouraged adults to reach out to children and help them plan for their futures.
“They need our attention. They need our wisdom,” Henderson said. “We have to help them find out who they are and who they want to be.”
Monday’s events concluded with an evening program featuring John S. Wilson Jr., president of historically black Morehouse College in Atlanta.
Wilson was appointed in 2010 as executive director of the White House Initiative on Historically Black Colleges and Universities under the Obama administration. He left the post in 2013.
This story was changed Jan. 22, 2015, to clarify that John S. Wilson Jr. was the first appointed head of the White House Initiative on Historically Black Colleges and Universities under President Barack Obama. Meldon Hollis was first appointed to that position in 1980 under President Jimmy Carter, who established the initiative.
Follow Lanie Lee Cook on Twitter, @lanieleecook, or contact her by phone at (337) 534-0825