About 200 area residents celebrated Martin Luther King Jr. Day Monday at the Club Outreach Civic Center with a march, prayers, singing, speeches and readings from King’s famous speeches.
The day’s events began with a march through several blocks surrounding the civic center. As the march was being organized, one of the leaders told the mostly young people making the trek that marching was important because King had used marches to bring attention to the need for change during the civil rights movement of his day.
The theme of the celebration was, “Honor the Past; Impact the Future,” and Debra Keller set the tone for the day’s gathering in her introductory remarks when she asked the crowd, “How can we learn from the past how to impact the future?” Keller said that one of the purposes of the King observance was to learn how each person can do all they can to change the future for the betterment of all people.
Keynote speaker was former Livingston Parish Sheriff Willie Graves, who opened his remarks by saying that King was “a giant of a man … perhaps not in stature but in what he believed, what he taught and what he accomplished during the time he was the leader of the civil rights movement.”
Graves said his father, Odom Graves, as sheriff of Livingston Parish, had to deal with the reality that the Ku Klux Klan was still active in Livingston Parish during the 1960s. Graves said that his father had a spy in the Klan. When that spy informed the sheriff that a cross was going to be burned in the Graves’s yard, his father placed the family in a safe place in their home and waited for the Klan. He said his father saw a pickup truck coming toward their house and fired a few warning shots before the potential cross burners could even get out of the truck.
“They didn’t even bother to stop. … My father wasn’t going to put up with antics,” he said.
Discussing King, Graves said, “when men were hiding behind masks and hoods, Martin Luther King stood up to them…he wasn’t afraid, he didn’t hide. He believed that all men were created equal and deserved equal opportunity. His character, strength and faith never wavered even when he knew he could be a target of violence from people with hate in their hearts.”
Graves also noted that many complain about all the things that are wrong in the world, but King offered solutions to many of society’s challenges. “Dr. King preached faith, love, nonviolence and positive values, and that’s why we remember him today and value the lessons he taught,” he said.
A procession of young speakers talked about the values King said should be instilled in all — equality, faith, nonviolence, education, love, leadership and selflessness.
Velva Trask offered a dramatic rendition of King’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech .
U’drego Golmond Sr. drew applause from the crowd after his forceful reading of a speech on slain civil rights leaders. Golmond urged the young people in the audience to be polite, have good manners and to be obedient and respectful to their elders.
In the program’s conclusion, Mary Maiden, president of the Club Outreach Civic Center, encouraged everyone to learn to work together.
“It’s not about me, myself and I — it’s about us. It’s important that we work together to make this world a better place for all our citizens,” she said. “That’s what Martin Luther King did and we should follow his example. ”