Jan. 19, 2004 – More than 500 people — among them students, labor groups, fraternity and sorority members and senior citizens — joined in a celebration of brotherhood, peace and diversity in tribute to Martin Luther King Jr. on Monday with a march from Plaza Shopping Center to a rally at Island Center for the Performing Arts.
"This is about honoring the memory of Martin Luther King," James Francis said as he chaperoned 34 children from Eulalie R. Rivera Professional Development School. "The children must continue to perpetuate his memory and know that the benefits they reap today are because of the struggle he went through."
Martin Luther King Jr. was instrumental in breaking down the barriers of discrimination and segregation. As an advocate of non-violent protest, he became a national figure following his involvement in the Montgomery, Ala., bus boycott. His "I Have a Dream" speech delivered in the 1963 march on Washington is held as one of the greatest oratorical speeches of modern times. King was assassinated in 1968 in Memphis, Tenn.
Careem Smith, a sixth grader at Juanita Gardine School, said that he was honoring Dr. King on Monday because "he was kind and he helped all people to love one another and stop abusing each other." Gardine social studies teacher Claire Samuel said her students studied about the civil rights leader recently and "did assignments on King's life, accomplishments and dreams."
Monday's activities were organized by Antoinette Rampersad, chair, and Naomi Joseph, co-chair, of the Central Labor Council's Civil Rights Committee. Joseph was happy about the turnout but said it was not the biggest crowd they have seen. "This year the private schools did not come out," she said. "Last year we had at least a hundred more people involved."
The honoree for this year's observance was Lloyd Alfredo "Sonny" Barnes, Crucian who has advocated on behalf of Virgin Islanders with special needs since 1976 .
"You could not find a better person to honor," Joseph said. "Sonny fights against being deprived of his rights every day."
Barnes, who has been afflicted with muscular dystrophy from birth, is a member of the Vitran Transportation Board and was honored recently by the 25th Legislature for his tireless dedication, contributions and activism. The Central Labor Council presented Barnes the "Drum Major for Justice" award at the rally.
Delegate Donna M. Christensen said she participates in the St. Croix Martin Luther King Day march every year. "The dream continues through the children," she said, "and we need to make sure they have the opportunity to dream."
Alpha Kappa Alpha was one of the fraternities represented in the march. "Dr. King was an Alpha," member Frank Abednego said. "His ideals represent what our organization was founded on."
Jewel Ross Brathwaite, president of Alpha Phi Alpha, one of the sororities taking part, said her organization promotes MLK Day as a day of service to the community. "It's a day on, not a day off," she said, pointing to the words emblazoned on her T-shirt. "We will be visiting the Flamboyant Gardens elderly home and hosting their luncheon," she said.
Zeta Phi Beta, whose president is Michelle Gibbs, and its youth group, the Archonettes, composed of junior and senior high school students, participated as well.
Also represented were the Future Business Leaders of America at Elena Christian Junior High School; students and drummers from Eulalie R. Rivera Professional Development School; students from Evelyn M. Williams, Alfredo Andrews and Pearl B. Larsen Elementary Schools, Education Complex, and Positive Connections School; members of the Central Labor Council; and senior citizens from Flamboyant Gardens riding in two safari buses.
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