Panhandle Slim holds MLK sign

Local artist Panhandle Slim watches the parade while holding his artwork.

On Jan. 20, the city of Savannah continued its 41st annual celebration for the life of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, kicking off the day’s festivities with a parade coming down East Broad Street to MLK Jr. Boulevard, passing the first African Baptist church where Dr. King, gave his legendary “I have a dream speech” for the first time. This parade was host to more than 300 groups in the area with over 200 individuals in attendance watching from the sidelines. Many churches, several youth groups, Chatham county organizations, law enforcement, and community leaders gathered to make the parade a success. 

There are also gospel concerts, dinners, scholarship awards, and memorial services held by the MLK Observance Day Association throughout the month of January and February. Annette Mitchell, organizer for the Top Ladies of Distinction Incorporation (Top Teens of America), said her group has been in participation with the parade for fifteen years. Seeing how it has grown and being that it was not a legal holiday was intriguing for her.

“We went from 30 participants to over 300 participants, which is amazing,” President of the incorporation Beverly Copeland said. Copeland said her personal experience is that her family always took the day off even though it wasn’t a legal holiday. Those were her family values which followed her into adulthood. 

Jim Rosch, member of the Unitarian Universalist church said, “I enjoy walking in solidarity with all the people everywhere with justice for all. It’s just wonderful to see how people are more open to social change and unity.” 

The Soulful Riders Motorcycle Club Sergeant at Arms IL Chico Griffen said, “It is an honor to honor Dr. King and all of his achievements.” 

Mr. Griffen was one of the very first to work the parade and has been a participant since the parade began. The organization has been around for 42 years and is also the longest lasting motorcycle club in the area. 

Simona Perry and Brandi Olenyik were in their first year participating in the parade as part of the Episcopal Dioceses of Savannah. The Dioceses is an organization consisting of several combined churches. Perry said she had the anticipation of supporting justice, and equality. 

“We’re continuing the fight for equality and justice in our city which MLK and Howard Thurman began,” said Perry. 

Donna Kelly, One Spirit Dance Academy founder and alumnus of Savannah State University, began her academy after she graduated from SSU in 2005. Her organization has participated in the parade for 10 years. 

Kelly said, “Seeing the black community come together as a whole is a joy for us all. Don’t forget as an alumnus of SSU, you can get anywhere from here.” 

Another SSU alumni and elder of the League of Brawn Men’s Ministry located in Liberty City, Eric McBeth works alongside First Jerusalem Baptist church which offers support to teens and young men in the area by helping twelve different youth ministries in the area through an umbrella organization called Boys ll Men. 

Also, in attendance at the parade was Savannah’s newly elected mayor, Van Johnson. Johnson said he has been participating in the parade since he began attending college in 1986. 

“I enjoy seeing people from all faiths, races, businesses, and communities. All of us united we commemorate Dr. King’s extraordinary contributions to our daily well-being,” said Johnson. 

The MLK celebration will continue throughout the month of January and into the succeeding months. Visit the MLK OBSERVATION DAY ASSOCIATIONS website for more information on those events.

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