Scores of people marched to the beat of drums through the Village of Hempstead Monday in the 22nd year of a commemoration that seeks to celebrate and bring awareness to the nation's struggle for civil rights.
The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Parade called on participants "to unite to make his dream a reality" in a year marked by protests in the aftermath of police killings of unarmed black men, said Waymon Speight, president of the Hempstead-based United People Organization behind the march.
King's message, Speight said, can heal communities.
"It's about love. It's about peace. It's about unity," Speight, 48, said of King's legacy and the event. "It's not about being separated" but about marching "for the one that started all the marches" propelling the U.S. civil rights movement.
Cadets from the Junior Reserve Officers' Training Corps at Aviation High School in Long Island City, Queens, and a fleet of fire trucks from the Hempstead Fire Department were bookends to the parade. Some walked in silence, others singing "We shall overcome; we shall overcome; we shall overcome, some day."
More than 200 people gathered for a celebratory program at Miracle Christian Center.
Keynote speaker Waylyn Hobbs Jr., a Village of Hempstead deputy mayor who is also a preacher, told the crowd to "keep dreaming" and spreading King's message.
"We are here today to not only celebrate the birthday but the life and the legacy of Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King, a man who not only worked for the civil rights of African-American people but for the rights of all people," Hobbs said. "In light of everything that's been going on in our nation today, it is stated that black lives matter, but I stopped by to let you know today that all lives matter."
Several speakers, such as Village Mayor Wayne Hall, said young people in minority communities should be the priority in carrying out King's dream.
Hall said the focus should be on education "to make black and brown young men successful" so that they can "sit in boards, not in East Meadow" where the county jail is located.
Bridgit Lyons, 48, a Baldwin resident, was off from work as a fifth-grade teacher in East New York, Brooklyn. But she made sure she took her daughter Autumn, 6, to the 9 a.m. march.
"A lot of our youth don't realize why they have what they have, why they just can be able to go to school and have equal opportunity as others," Lyons said.
"They don't understand that it hasn't always been that way, that only about 50-some odd years ago we weren't allowed . . . because of the color of our skin."