For a second straight year, the streets around Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard and Western Avenue in South Los Angeles — the starting point of the traditional Kingdom Day Parade — will be quiet on MLK Day. The annual parade, which honors the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on his national holiday and traditionally draws hundreds of thousands of spectators, has again been canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic. But organizers have come up with a Plan B, hoping they can still do some good in King’s name Monday during the holiday celebrating his birthday — which is often observed as a day of service.
In lieu of floats and marching bands and the traditional post-parade festival in Leimert Park, organizers are planning a free in-car COVID-19 rapid- testing event along a stretch of Degnan Boulevard, near the park. It follows the Jan. 7 cancellation of what would have been the 37th edition of L.A.’s premier MLK Day event — a decision made “with some agony,” according to Adrian Dove, Parade Committee Chairman for the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE-CA), which sponsors the parade.
“The entire Board of Directors of the Kingdom Day Parade voted unanimously to take the drastic action of canceling this year’s parade on the street in order to avoid even the faintest possibility of sponsoring a super- spreader event,” Dove said at the time. In an interview with City News Service last week, Dove described how the COVID testing event became his group’s next-best alternative.
“I thought it’s not enough to just bow out (of the parade) — you need to do something more than that, so instead of not contributing to the spread (of COVID-19), I’m going to work on preventing it,” Dove said. “And when I saw people lined up (for testing), I said, `I could do that.”’ He said the committee also had some 150 volunteers lined up for parade duty, and they, too, wanted to do “something positive” in King’s name.
Many will be assisting during Monday’s testing event. After last year’s parade cancellation, organizers had time to plan an hourlong televised celebration that featured an interview with King’s oldest son, highlights of past parades and interviews with local dignitaries about King’s impact on their lives. But this year’s Omicron surge hit too close to the planned parade date to organize another event with so many moving parts, Dove said.
Still, he added, organizers had already rented barricades and other parade paraphernalia, and didn’t want to see the money go for naught — so the COVID testing event was quickly put together. The committee will use an area near Leimert Park for the in-car rapid COVID testing event. Dove said the committee has purchased 500 rapid tests — the most it could obtain of the in-demand product — and that cars can line up on West 43rd Street off Degnan Boulevard from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Monday.
Former President Ronald Reagan signed a bill in 1983 to create the federal holiday to honor King, and the holiday was first observed in 1986. It falls on the third Monday in January, near King’s birthdate of Jan. 15. The civil-rights icon was born in 1929 and was assassinated in 1968 at age 39. Monday marks the 93rd anniversary of his birth.