Staff Photo: Brendan Sullivan Members from the Lawrenceville Boys & Girls Club march in the 13th annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. parade and celebration in downtown Lawrenceville Monday. Hundreds took part in the parade which started at the Gwinnett Historic Courthouse and concluded at Moore Middle School in Lawrenceville.
LAWRENCEVILLE -- Before the parade even began Monday, Jeremiah Harris, 7, had already learned the most important lesson of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.
"He changed the rules," Jeremiah said. How? "With love."
Cassandra Harris said her son was participating for the second time in the annual United Ebony Society King Day march, and later his Cub Scout troop would talk about the program and its significance. But Jeremiah was ready.
"This is their service," Harris said of the troop. "They really enjoy it."
The 13th annual trek through the county seat was built on a theme this year of service, with nearly 1,000 people from church groups, dance teams, marching bands, sororities and more wrapping around the historic courthouse.
"Were all here this morning, but what happens tomorrow?" said Frances Davis, a Gwinnett County Public Schools administrator who spoke during the program of the occasion of the federal holiday also marked as a day of service. "It begins today and it begins with you and it begins with me. Let's get busy Gwinnett."
This year, the route extended along U.S. Highway 29 past the usual end at Central Gwinnett High School to Robbie S. Moore Middle School, which is named for the society's co-founder.
"They have really made footprints in this county," Joe McCarty said of the United Ebony Society's influence, adding that the organization reached out further to social media groups this year.
Lawrenceville man Charles Bracks makes the march an annual family event, and he brings along a wall plaque featuring King he had created 30 years ago while serving in the military in Korea.
"It's a symbol of my love of what he stood for," Bracks said of the sign, which features the "Free at Last" phrase from King's famous march on Washington. "He stood for equality for everybody, no matter what your color is."
In full dress uniform, retired Gunnery Sgt. "Will Bill" Gaskins, of Grayson, said he usually marches in Veterans Day parades but he came to the county's MLK parade for the first time this year.
"All our black people have been fighting since the French and Indian War. I want them to remember that. I want to let these kids know," Gaskins said, adding that he also wants to be a role model. "Maybe they can see something they want to do or be."
Across the county, a similar parade kicked off in Snellville, where city and faith leaders organized a second annual event.
While kids were bundled in coats and hats, the weather was sunny and warmer than usual, which was not lost on parade participants.
"We know Dr. King and others marched in brutal and dangerous conditions, so we do not compare," said Ebony Society President Marlene Taylor-Crawford.