By Valerie Baldowski
Henry County's annual parade in honor of the late Martin Luther King, Jr., drew more than 800 attendees and participants, according to organizers.
Monday's parade route began and ended at Henry County High School in McDonough. State Rep. Rahn Mayo (D-Decatur) was the parade's grand marshal. The activities were sponsored by the City of McDonough, and hosted by the Henry County chapter of the NAACP, according to LaSonji Rivers, press and publicity chairperson for the chapter.
The parade was first held in 2001 in the Fairview community, at Greater New Hope Christian Assembly. Rivers said it has steadily grown each year since.
"The first few years we had a little under 200 participants," Rivers said. "We've doubled or tripled our participation since then."
The Henry County High School Marching Band was led in the parade by senior drum major, Nehemiah Rolle, 18.
"It's a great honor, because normally with our band being this size, we generally don't get invited to a lot of places," he said. "The county could easily have invited any another band."
The Henry County High School Marching Band has 60 members, said Rolle.
Henry County District IV Commissioner Reid Bowman said the parade was a way to remember King's life and legacy. "We're doing it so we remember, lest we forget," he said. "Growing up in the 1950s in Georgia, I see that the country's come a long way. We've probably still got a little bit more to go."
He said the parade also served as a way to teach young people about civil rights struggles.
"These children don't know anything about it, other than what they read about in books," Bowman said. "It's all about keeping them involved."
Mayo also served as the keynote speaker for the ninth-annual Martin Luther King, Jr., Day program at the Henry County Performing Arts Center, held after the parade.
"I'm overcome with emotion as I stand here and consider how far we've come as a nation, from the sting of water hoses and the fights with dogs and batons," he said. "Dr. King dreamed of this day, of this moment."
Mayo said the program was a fitting tribute to King's memory.
"Today we celebrate the life and legacy of a man whose work changed the world forever," he said.
Mayo concluded his remarks by posing a question to those in attendance.
"What are you depositing in the fabric of America that will make our country a better place to live, now and for future generations?"