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Hundreds march in Gwinnett King Day parade

Children from the Lawrenceville Boys & Girls Club march in the 14th annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. parade and celebration in downtown Lawrenceville Monday. (Photo: John Spruill)

Children from the Lawrenceville Boys & Girls Club march in the 14th annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. parade and celebration in downtown Lawrenceville Monday. (Photo: John Spruill)

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Terese Danner remembers watching as Martin Luther King Jr. entered a church in her hometown of Omaha to preach a sermon more than 50 years ago.

“Martin Luther King was all about service. His whole life was about service, and that’s what we’re about,” Danner said, as she prepared to watch sorority sisters participate in Monday’s King Day parade in Lawrenceville.

She and her friends also clambored Monday to take a photo of another civil rights icon, Olympic gold medalist Tommie Smith, the grand marshal of the United Ebony Society event whose raised fist on the victory stand in 1968 brought attention to racial issues worldwide.

“In Mexico City, it was my blessing to make a silent gesture,” Smith told a crowd of hundreds in front of the Gwinnett Historic Courthouse. “I did not give up on society. I offered hope through awareness.”

Smith encouraged people to get involved and help others.

Track runner Carmen Pearson, 15, got her picture taken with the man who once held 11 world records but was kept from competing again after his political statement at the Olympics.

“It’s once in a lifetime,” mother Arcelia Pearson said, after snapping the photo on her phone.

Smith, though, turned the message back to King, the civil rights leader whose “I Have a Dream” speech 51 years ago helped bring about the Civil Rights Act.

Gwinnett Commission Chairwoman Charlotte Nash said King’s message is important in a community that is one of the most diverse in the country.

“We have cultures and languages from all across the world. … It brings richness to our community,” she said, adding that the commission will focus in the coming years on engaging people from across the demographic spectrum. “We’ve got a responsibility to create a place where all different types feel welcome and have a chance to be a productive citizen.

“We need every single individual to be a part of that,” Nash added. “I’d like to think that Dr. King would approve of that.”

Snellville man Greg Williams said he is always sure to watch King Day festivities with his 7-year-old twins, so they learn about the history and the message.

“We wanted to bring out ours out to experience Martin Luther King Day and what it stood for with equality for everyone,” he said.