Hundreds took to the streets to march in the Long Beach Martin Luther King Center’s annual Martin Luther King Jr. Birthday Commemorative March on Monday.
The celebration, titled “Seek Knowledge and Make a Difference,” honored not only King’s legacy, but also that of the late Nelson Mandela, the South African president and civil rights activist.
The parade stepped off at 11:30 a.m. from West Park Avenue and Laurelton Boulevard, and closely followed that which King took when he visited Long Beach in 1968. Many community groups marched, holding banners and waving signs with images of King and Mandela.
“I’m from the south and when he was in Alabama, I was there,” said marcher and parade committee member Eura Owens. “He was a great man, and there was a lot of injustice that was done that he fought. To remember him, I think I owe that to him.”
The MLK Center, the Long Beach Branch NAACP, Project Hope, Project Excellence, Kathy’s Korner for Outreach, the New Life Church of Christ and the VFW all marched in the parade. The grand marshal was Chandler McMillian, Long Beach High School Class of 2014’s valedictorian.
“I was so surprised and honored and felt so privileged,” McMillan said on being named grand marshal. “I didn’t truly understand how much [being valedictorian] meant to the black community. It made me feel so proud of myself and hopefully that I can proved some encouragement to others.”
The parade continued along West Park Avenue and through the North Park neighborhood, finishing at the MLK Center for the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Holiday Celebration, Luncheon and Fundraiser. Musicians, singers and dancers entertained the crowd. The keynote speaker was the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of New York, Loretta Lynch, who spoke about Mandela and King’s legacies of non-violence and using education as a tool for freedom.
“It isn’t that you look at [children] and say, ‘you can be the U.S. attorney, you can be the lawyer,’” Lynch said. “I had no clue I’d ever be U.S. attorney. But you want them to say, ‘you can finish school. You can pick a goal and you can achieve it.’ You’re not limited by where you grew up or what people say about you.”