Crowds of people gathered Monday morning in Dallas near Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard to prepare for the city's annual MLK Day parade.
Some folks carried lawn chairs and tried to stake claim to spots near the parade route. Others huddled near one another trying to stay warm as they listened to the bombastic sound of high school marching bands warming up prior to the parade’s start.
Oak Cliff’s Mike Fletcher was there bright and early with his five-year-old daughter Attina. He said he’s excited about bringing her to the parade because Attina has just started learning about King in school.
“You know, they just read his 'I Have a Dream' speech,” he said. “So I think this is a good opportunity for her to learn about history. Plus, she’s never been to a parade before, like any parade, so this is fun.”
Despite the chill in the air, Fletcher said this is a perfect day for a community to come out and be together.
“I can’t think of a better day for kids to come out to learn about Martin Luther King,” he said. “They can learn about diversity and, you know, we’re all going to be out here together. That's a good thing.”
Latya Taylor lives in Allen, but she comes to Dallas’ M.L.K. Day parade almost every year. She said this parade is a celebration of how far society has come in the years since King’s passing.
“It’s also a celebration of where we are and where we’re going,” Taylor said. “I mean, when you hear these young people playing instruments or you see those girls practicing their dance steps, it’s because their in pursuit of excellence. Getting it right! And crowds have been here since 8 a.m., so it’s a big deal.”
Taylor said people in the African American community look up to King because he set an example worth living up to. He was educated, engaged and spiritual — and that’s left a mark on African Americans, she said. But it’s also set a high bar.
"From the time that we’re little tots, we’re taught to give everything our best. And we’re very spiritual people, so we’re taught to do things that’ll be pleasing in God’s eyes,” Taylor said. “That means young black children are taught that they have to be bigger, better, stronger, faster and smarter to compete.”
Candice Wicks echoed Taylor’s thoughts on what it means to live in “excellence.” Wicks is a member of the Martin Luther King Jr. Community Center advisory board. She said the holiday shouldn't be the only time to acknowledge King or the African American community.
“It’s not just about today — even though this is a special day — but we try to do what we should do 365 days a year, so we celebrate ourselves everyday,” Wicks said.
Pastor Donna Slayter was excited about the parade too. She said having everyone together is reason worth celebrating.
“I’m not just talking about one community,” she said, “We’re talking about all of the constituents of Dallas coming together to be excited about honoring Dr. King and his legacy.”
One of the most excited people at Monday’s parade was Dallas native and Mayor Eric Johnson. He served as the grand marshal. Johnson said having his parents and children on hand was a real dream come true.
“I mean, it’s the honor of a lifetime, obviously, to be the grand marshal of the MLK parade," Johnson said. "I mean, I never dreamt in a million years I’d be mayor and I’d be the grand marshal of the parade that goes through the heart of the African American community in Dallas.”
Johnson has issued a proclamation in honor of King. It declares 2020 as a year of nonviolence in the city of Dallas.
“After the year we had in 2019 with violent crime, homicides, being higher than they’ve been in over a decade, I think we need to think about what Dr. King thought of violence," Johnson said. "He didn’t think violence was an appropriate tool to use ever! Even [for] a just cause like civil rights, so certainly not as a tool to settle a dispute.”