'Still Dreaming His Dream,' Community Holds Eighth Celebration With Low-Key Pride

Along the winding Anacostia avenue that bears his name, past Baptist churches and abandoned homes, they came yesterday to pay tribute to the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

It was the eighth time Ward 8 held a parade in King's honor. In other years, stars turned out for the event, and thousands came to watch them.

But this year, with the first observance of King's birthday as a federal holiday, the masses went downtown for the official celebration, and the parade in Southeast Washington was a sideshow attended mostly by local residents.

"The holiday is getting away from the poor people," said Calvin Woodland, a local community activist. "His legacy is with the needy, not in the Kennedy Center. We're still dreaming his dream."

Although the celebration was relatively quiet, for hundreds of people wrapped tight against the early morning chill, the music -- Stevie Wonder as interpreted by the marching bands of Ballou and Dunbar high schools -- never sounded sweeter.

"I can't believe this day has come," said Rochelle Mann, who said she has attended every birthday celebration in King's honor over the years. "When I was a child nobody would have dared to dream that a black man would have this."

It was a day for families. Grandmothers pressed the hands of children, and as each school band passed the crowd, proud parents shouted encouragement to the marchers.

The police sent a car and the fire department sent an engine company. A bookmobile was there, and so was the Red Cross. The East Coast Volkswagen Club sent a delegation consisting of one lime green van and a dozen Beetles.

And near the head of the parade, in a white van with a banner proclaiming that "The M.I. crew is going to rock the house," rode one of the area's most popular rap groups -- the Missing In Action Crew.

There were many groups opposed to drug abuse -- Concerned Mothers Against Alchohol and Drug Abuse, Unfoldment -- and some speakers said that if King were alive today, he would be leading the fight to keep drugs out of schools and away from innner-city children.

Mayor Marion Barry met the parade en route and rode along with the grand marshal, City Council member Wilhelmina J. Rolark.

The mayor designated the Ward 8 celebration as the official city parade.

"Anacostia is viewed by some as a forgotten area," he said. "But we haven't forgotten. Life is celebrated here just as well as downtown."

Most of the crowd reacted with pleasure at Barry's appearance. There were dissenters, however, amid the applause.

" 'Bout time you paid us a visit," said Mattie Holloway as the mayor swept by. "I haven't seen you for one long time."

By far the greatest applause was for Charles Mann and Ken Coffey, members of the Washington Redskins who represented the team at the parade. Entire families ran up to their blue Mercedes as it passed by.

For Rolark, who was one of the founders of the parade and for years worked to establish a federal holiday to mark King's birthday, this year's celebration was not dimmed by the sparse crowd.

"This is a grass-roots community effort," she said. "It always has been. It can never be preempted by bigger events because its spirit is the biggest thing in town."