CARE Rockbridge MLK Community Parade draws more than 800 participants

newspaperLove won out – again – as organizers of the second annual CARE Rockbridge MLK Community Parade estimated that well over 800 came out in bitterly cold temperatures this morning to honor Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

This not only well exceeded the 2017 turnout, but was three to four times the turnout for Saturday’s Lee-Jackson parade.

“Another successful, safe MLK Community Parade” is how CARE President Pastor Lyndon Sayers summed up the event. “We took up space in our own streets, filled with joy as neighbors of all generations and walks of life gathered for this public celebration. We are thankful for the preparedness of the City of Lexington, Chief Roman, and all law enforcement who were present and highly visible throughout the parade route.”

CARE (Community Anti-Racism Effort) Rockbridge was founded in 2016 to speak out against racism in all its forms in Lexington and surrounding areas. Adopting a holistic approach, CARE Rockbridge focuses on providing anti-racism educational opportunities year-round, in addition to public gatherings such as vigils for victims of racist attacks and the MLK Community parade.

Honorary parade marshals walking behind the lead banner with CARE President Lyndon Sayers and CARE Spokesperson Reginald A. Early were recently retired local entrepreneurs Al Hockaday and Ernestine Hockaday, Washington and Lee Student Executive Committee Vice President Elizabeth Mugo, retired area teacher Maria Quillin, and Washington and Lee Assistant Professor of History T. J. Tallie.

“Joy permeated the cold winter day, making for the warmth of love,” observed Pastor Early, who continued, “If there was any sense of fear of the parade being another Charlottesville, that fear was alleviated with the overwhelming presence of local and state law enforcement agencies.”

Emphatically not a protest march, the mood was peaceful and festive, with singing and chants breaking out spontaneously along the route. Planned as a family-friendly event, young children were carried on shoulders, babies pushed in strollers, and more than a few brought their dogs. New guidelines that prohibited non-crushable materials, wood, and metal did not deter creativity in the homemade signs carried with messages echoing this year’s theme, “We March For Love.”

Given the change for the day of the parade from a Saturday to Monday this year, CARE Rockbridge Parade organizers were especially pleased with the increased turnout. The diversity of the Lexington community was also highlighted, as straight, gay, young, retired, black, white, and Latino were united in sharing a message of love and inclusion. But, still, CARE organizers were left to wonder how many more local residents would have been able to come if they had the day off from work or school to celebrate Dr. King’s legacy.

Washington and Lee University, which cancels class on MLK Day for students, but not staff, had a strong student showing. Children in the Lexington City Schools had the day off, but Rockbridge County Schools did not. However, it was clear from the numerous Rockbridge County High School students marching with their families and friends that they had received the word that they would be able to receive an excused absence for participation, even on a day when the cold might have made going to school more appealing.

Although the 2017 parade drew support from many out-of-town groups who joined in solidarity with local residents, the crowd this year was overwhelmingly local. Many area churches and organizations marched together. Pastor McKinley Williams of Lexington’s First Baptist Church urged his congregation during the Sunday service to turn out for the parade, and described it afterwards as, “a giant step towards equality, unity, and justice for all!”

One downtown business, Earth Fire Spirit Pottery, posted a sign in its window that it was delaying opening to join in the parade. CARE Rockbridge Organizers also actively encouraged all participants to spend time and money at downtown merchants after the parade, even as they were kept busy fielding request for interviews from local, regional, and national media.

As Pastor Sayers was heard to say, “We have sent a message that we are marching forward with courage, hope, and love. Join us again for our Third Annual Community Parade in January 2019.”

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