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Long Island celebrates MLK’s memory with parade, artwork

Aviation High School ROTC cadets march Monday, Jan.

Aviation High School ROTC cadets march Monday, Jan. 18, 2016, in the Village of Hempstead with residents and community leaders at the 23rd annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day Parade. Photo Credit: Howard Schnapp

A group of people braved the cold Monday and marched through the Village of Hempstead in the annual parade in remembrance of Martin Luther King Jr. and his fight for racial equality.

“We still have struggles today that need to be stamped out. That’s why we march,” said Martha Washington, 70, a retired nurse’s aide from Freeport.

The Martin Luther King Jr. Day Parade — one of several events across Long Island on Monday — called on participants to unite to make his dream a reality.

Washington lived through a time in this nation’s history when African-Americans were forced to live a life separate from their white neighbors. When she was a little girl living in South Carolina, Washington remembered everywhere she went there were two lines. One for blacks, the other for whites.

“One was dark and dingy. The other was more lit up and bright,” Washington said as she walked to the beat of drums. “The bathrooms were the same way.”

This year, like every year since the parade’s inception 23 years ago, Washington marched to remind the younger generations where they came from.

Another paradegoer, Pablo Correa, 17, a student at Hempstead High School, said King fought for all oppressed people.

“The fight is not over,” he said. “I think for my generation the struggle is having to deal with negative images. People have this image of minitorities that simply isn’t true.”

Coming together, as the community did Monday, he said, is a good start.

Cadets from the Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps at Aviation High School in Long Island City, Queens, led the parade, followed by marchers young and old, followed by a fleet of firetrucks from the Hempstead Fire Department.

The milelong parade, sponsored by the village, began at Kennedy Memorial Park and ended at the Miracle Christian Center, where others gathered for a celebratory program.

At another morning event in Garden City, school-age children and their caregivers participated in a workshop held annually at the Long Island Children’s Museum.

About 20 children spent the day off from classes listening to a short talk on the legacy of King while creating their own canvas prints of his face. The were also provided a copy of King’s “I Have a Dream” speech.

Kayla Martin, 9, of Baldwin, was gently brushing a light blue background on her canvas before it was her turn to apply the block ink stamp onto it.

She said she learned how King tried to stop racism through peaceful means.

“He wanted to end violence and have people to use their words,” she said. Her grandmother, Willie Mae Martin of Hempstead, said she sometimes worries that King’s efforts are lost on the younger generations.

“I feel like his dream for the youth is sometimes falling apart,” she said. “Sometimes you feel like we’re going backwards in this country.”

At another table, Alicia Washington, 39, of Hempstead brought her niece, visiting from Westchester County.

“I wanted her to know it isn’t just a holiday when you are off from school but that it is a day achieved by people who came long before us,” said Washington, who is not related to Martha Washington and works in hotel sales. “I want these kids to understand the struggles of those before us and that they shouldn’t give up on their own dreams.”

Stacey Lee, outreach manager at the museum, said the goal was to combine the idea of King and his teachings with a fun, hands-on activity.

“It’s amazing what the kids understand,” Lee said. “Children learn through tactile projects and here they’ll have something they can actually keep to commemorate him.”

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