A cloudless day seemingly served as an appropriate canvas for a special occasion defined by what Mayor Julius Alsandor called a perfect afternoon of togetherness celebrated city residents.
Alsandor and other city elected officials participated Monday in the annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. parade and celebration event first organized 40 years ago by longtime city resident Rebecca Henry.
Thematically named “It Starts With Me,” the occasion significantly spotlighted the contributions of King for non-violence, justice and freedom, Henry was honored for starting the parade and post-parade events now held at the Holy Ghost Catholic Church Life Center.
Starting at South City Park, the parade featured several youth and dance groups that wound through Opelousas’ residential and business districts.
Henry said she conceived of creating an event that featured recognition of King’s message of non-violent social reforms, but it wasn’t until she approached former Holy Ghost pastor Albert McKnight with the idea that the idea of celebrating the MLK legacy began to move forward.
McKnight’s eventual approval of a city-sponsored MLK celebration conceived by Henry was recalled by Opelousas elected officials during the heavily-attended Life Center production that featured speeches from elected officials, interpretative dancing and a variety of musical presentations.
Eltonez “Cookie” Salton and former city parks and recreation director Clarence Watson provided several songs, while saxophonist Darcy Greene and the Holy Ghost choir provided background assistance in addition to highlighting their own performances.
Salton also urged those attending to, “Walk the streets and come together. Go out and make that difference,” she said.
Especially disconcerting Salton added, are the directions of some of Opelousas’ youths.
“We are losing them, losing our children,” she said.
State representative Dustin Miller reminded the crowd of the methods used by King and former President Barack Obama, whom Miller described as “national leaders who served in a non-violent way.”
King and Obama, Miller added, made it possible for African Americans to “sit down at the same table as a white man.”
Generally Miller said, people treat others in St. Landry with respect, without regard to ethnicity.
The parish justice system Miller noted, is a “fair system, but I think we can do better.”